Squash, the ninth of our 11 Ingredients of the Day.
Why They’re Important:
When European settlers first landed in America, squashes — plants of the genus Cucurbita, which originated in South America — had long been part of the Native American diet. The name squash comes from the Narrangansett Indian word askutasquash, which meant “the green things that may be eaten raw.” In fact, the term “three sisters” referred to the Native American practice of interplanting corn, beans and squash. It was a brilliant system: the corn formed tall stalks for the beans to climb, the beans put nitrogen in the soil for the corn to use and the squash leaves thrived in the shade of the corn and provided ground cover to keep the weeds away. (And in fact eating them together is one of the to-dos on our Eat Drink Local week Challenge.)
We generally group squash into two categories: summer squash and winter squash. Summer squash are thin-skinned fruits that are harvested quickly in summer and eaten immature, like zucchini and pattypan. These squash contain lots of water and can be eaten either raw (try them shaved and tossed with vinaigrette) or cooked (zucchini bread anyone?).
What we call winter squash, on the other hand, are usually eaten fully matured and require longer cooking times. This group, which is actually harvested in late summer and fall, takes its name from its ability to keep throughout the winter, thanks to its protective, thick skins. Winter squash includes acorn squash (a good baking squash), butternut squash (great for soups), and spaghetti squash (it separates into strands when you cook it, making an excellent pasta substitute), and the famous moschata or Long Island cheese pumpkin, a great local heirloom squash perfect for pies and named after its resemblance to a wheel of cheese.
In fact heirloom varieties of squash, with their unusual shapes and flavors, are experiencing a rebirth thanks to farmers who are cultivating once-popular varieties like the locally procured delicata above, which tastes like a cross between sweet potato and corn. Also known as peanut or bohemian squash, delicata is one of the sweetest varieties of squash and can be baked or steamed. It also makes super creamy soups (just make the below, adapted from the February 1999 issue of Food & Wine, for proof).
Delicata Squash Soup
Three 1-pound delicata squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 small onion, chopped
1 small thyme sprig
3 C. vegetable stock, chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
1 1/3 C. heavy cream
1/4 C. crème fraîche (optional)
Preheat the oven to 300°. Set the squash, cut sides up, on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil. Add 1/2 teaspoon of the butter to each squash and season with salt and pepper. Add 1/8 inch of water to the baking sheet. Roast the squash for 45 minutes, or until tender.
In a large saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the onion and thyme and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Scrape the flesh out of the squash and add it to the saucepan along with the stock and heavy cream. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced by one-fourth, about 20 minutes.
Puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor. Strain into a clean saucepan and season with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into soup plates and garnish with a dollop of crème fraîche.
(And if you’re looking for some innovation this Thanksgiving, skip the canned pumpkin pie filling and try these Heirloom-Squash Tartlets from Martha Stewart, who, after all, is a local girl.)
Why We Love Them:
Lumpy, bumpy, cheap and brilliantly colored, what isn’t to love about squash? They’re also hearty, healthy, and flavorful. Winter squash in particular is a seasonal diner’s friend: It keeps longer than your average veggie once you bring it home, so no stress about using it quickly or keeping it refrigerated. Roast it to caramelize the squash’s natural sugars, steam it for quick cooking or puree it for a soup, like the one above.
Where to Find It:
You can of course drop by any of the city’s Greenmarkets to pick up some beauties to bake at home, or pop in one of our Eat Drink Local Week featured restaurants and bars where they’ll be serving local squash this week:
Back Forty will be serving roasted cauliflower and curried squash with toasted pumpkin seeds and local artisanal cheese through Tuesday. At BAMcafe you can enjoy herbed spatzle with caramelized brussel Sprouts, butternut squash, kale and a lemon and herb cream. Braeburn Restaurant will serve Catskill trout, roasted squash, fall spice, and a brown butter vinaigrette. db Bistro Moderne will feature fall squash soup, spaghetti squash, and pumpkin seeds. Jimmy’s No. 43 will offer 3 Corner Fields lamb sausage with squash. At Henry’s you can try butternut squash soup with toasted pumpkin seeds, apple cider reduction, and chive oil. Dizzy’s is dishing up Wild Hive Farm cornmeal dusted fried clams and Katchkie Farm squash spheres with a spicy red pepper remoulade. At Mas (Farmhouse) you can sample roasted Jack B’ Little pumpkins with a butternut squash risotto. Northfork Table and Inn is making Satur Farms butternut squash-apple soup with foie gras and pomegranate syrup. And at Radish you can try a twist on an American classic, acorn mac and cheese served in a squash. Rye will be putting up roasted all natural chicken & butternut squash risotto with sage & pancetta. Savoy will serve squash soup with Trinidad peppers, green olives and anchovy. Stop by Sotheby’s Terrace Cafe for roasted delicata squash stuffed with quinoa and Red Jacket Farm’s gala apple salad. Get your baked good fix at Ted and Honey where they’ll be offering local zucchini bread with local apples, coconut, pecans and Pennsylvania milled flour. The Green Table will have grilled Long Island duck breast with local squash ratatouille, and red wine demiglace. And for the real squash-heads out there, Almond has planned a four-course meal o’ squash featuring flatbread with delicata squash, cippolini onions, ricotta salata and fried egg, followed by acorn squash soup, pumpkin ravioli and butternut squash bread pudding.
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