Baked Winter Squash with Jalapenos and Piave (V.N.I.)
The words are the recipe; heat the squash, then top with cheese and peppers. The initials stand for Very Nearly Instant: about 2 minutes in the microwave, because we almost always have some baked winter squash around.
It’s one of our favorite vegetables: in the garden, where it’s quite easy to grow if you have the space, in the kitchen, of course, and up in the bedroom under the bureaus, where it’s the first thing I see – other than Bill – every morning when I awake.
Terrific way to start the day, actually. No matter how gloomy the weather or discouraging the news, here’s this good sized supply of a beautiful winter staple that’s filling, flavorful, versatile AND (blare of trumpets) requires no refrigeration, canning, freezing or other special preservation. It stays perfectly good at room temperature for an entire season.
Another big plus for winter squash is that you can get great ones at the supermarket – as long as you stick to Buttercup you’re unlikely to go wrong.
This being the case, it might seem as though all this crowing around about easy storage is only relevant to those who grow their own. Not so. Delicious is accessible all winter long, but assortment of delicious - spicy, fruity, meaty, sweet as honey, sweet as chestnuts – is only available for about a month at harvest time. You don’t have to grow it, but you do have to buy it when the buying’s good.
The squash in the picture are 50/50. We grew the Buttercup, a strain called Uncle David’s Dakota Dessert, and the Tetsukabuto. I bought the Candy Roaster Melon and the Queen of Smyrna at Fresh off the Farm, in Rockport, Maine.
FOFT, in turn, bought them from Wholesome Valley Farms, way up in Smyrna Mills (about 200 miles north, right near the Canadian border).
At this writing I can’t vouch for the Candy Roaster; we haven’t opened it yet. But I can say the Queen of Smyrna was one of the tastiest squashes I’ve ever eaten (that’s it at the top with the jalapenos) and all I wish – quite fervently – is that I had bought more of them when I had the chance.
As her name suggests, the Queen of Smyrna is profoundly local royalty. When I started looking back in Mid-October, I couldn’t find a single reference, either online or in the massive Seed Savers Yearbook, far and away the largest listing of non-commercial varieties. So I tried calling the listed number for Wholesome Valley Farms, which got me as far as a store called Pioneer Place USA, message central for the colony of Amish farmers who’ve settled in and near Smyrna.
A message was duly left, but that seemed to be the end of the trail. I didn’t hear back.
Until about two weeks ago, when I got a call from Milo Hilty, the farmer who’s working on turning the Queen from a chance mutation into a stable variety.
He’s been at it for about 7 years, ever since an all white fruit was found in a field of something “in the kabocha family,” and he expects to have achieved the goal next year or the year after.
That should put Queen of Smryna seed on the market by roughly 2013. How long it’ll take after that to rocket to its deserved fame I cannot imagine, but if it’s even half as easy to grow as it is to eat, get ready world – here she comes!
Being as it’s seed catalog time, I’ll mention that I got Uncle David from Fedco Seeds, where Mr. Hilty got the Candy Roaster Melon, an heirloom that’s double-distinctive. Candy Roaster is fairly well known (in the circles that know these things), and seed is sold by several companies that specialize in heirlooms. But Candy Roaster is a banana squash and that’s just what it looks like.
Tetsukabuto, a disquisition for another day, is sold by several companies including Kitazawa Seed and Pinetree Garden Seeds. It’s one of the most popular squashes in Japan, so there’s a chance you might find one to try if you look in markets that specialize in Japanese produce.
Photo note: The Buttercup in the picture doesn’t show the characteristic button on the bottom. Believe me; it’s there.