Wednesday, November 26, 2008
A Game of Squash
Step right up, folks! Come guess the weight of this squash. Hey, you there -- you look like you want to play, come pick a number. What have you got to lose? Step right up!
Wow us with your squash estimation skills by sending us a comment. We'll let you know later who's closest! (And no, you won't risk winning said squash as a prize -- can you imagine the shipping charges?! Besides, I have big plans for this beauty.)
Yes, banana squashes can be big, but this one from my garden borders on freak show proportions. (For reference, it's sitting atop a standard-size patio chair.)
Squashes are broken down into two categories: summer and winter. Summer squashes have delicate skins and include crookneck and zucchini. Winter squashes store well at or below room temperature for several weeks, in part thanks to their hard rind. Banana, butternut, hubbard and acorn are a few of these varieities.
Winter squashes lend themselves to breads, pies, pasta fillings, soups and much more. Try them in your favorite pumpkin recipe in place of it, their more publicized cousin. After being cut into pieces and seeds removed, winter squash flesh can be baked, boiled or even microwaved until tender. Small squashes may also be cooked whole in a slow cooker. For baked goods, drain cooked flesh in a colander for about an hour to remove extra moisture.
Here's one of my family's favorite uses for squash, a soup that has slowly helped me convert my husband into a squash fan. The quantities below are just guidelines; I don't go by a set recipe. But that's the beauty of soup -- you can adapt it to your own tastes with great results.
Squash-haters' special request bisque
2 lbs. winter squash (butternut is especially good)
1 large onion
1-2 cloves of garlic
1-2 stalks celery
2 quarts good quality chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup cream (can also use evaporated milk)
Favorite herbs (sage or rosemary work well)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped ham (optional)
Heat oven to 350. Prepare squash by removing seeds and stringy fibers. Place pieces cut side up in pan, uncovered, and put in oven. (It's OK if oven hasn't reached full temperature yet.)
Alternately, you can put prepared pieces in a covered dish in the microwave and cook for 10-20 minutes. This is quicker than oven method, but I think the roasted flavor the oven imparts is worth it if you have the time.
While squash is baking, mince garlic and chop onion and celery. Add vegetables, bay leaf and chicken stock to a large pot. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, and let vegetables cook until extremely soft.
Check squash in oven for tenderness after about 40 minutes. When done, remove skins from flesh. (If it's too hot to handle, let cool while you do the next step.)
Remove bay leaf from stock mixture and discard. Ladle softened vegetables into blender or food processor and process until smooth. (Do so in batches if needed.) Puree squash with small amount of stock.
Combine everything back into your pot. Slowly stir in cream and warm over low heat. Adjust seasonings and add ham. Serves 8.