THERE’S MORE TO SQUASH THAN ZUCCHINI by Robert Neroni

Oct 30th, 2007

Ever since a kid, I have had an aversion to zucchini squash; maybe because it was always steamed. A vegetable that is virtually all water to begin with just seems to dissolve into a lack luster and soggy pool on the plate. As my culinary career advanced so has my repertoire with all things squash. Guests are generally surprised at the varieties available throughout the year and especially here in Oregon in the fall and winter. I remember one of our first catering requests came from a group of doctors who wanted a Vegan experience, that is, no animal products what so ever. Thanks to the local farms combined with fall harvest, we were able to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner for several days without repeating a single vegetable preparation.
Squash comes in a variety of shapes and sizes weighing in just under a pound to up to fifteen pounds and more. Flesh tones range from green, golden–yellow to bright orange. Color in squash does not dictate flavor or sugar content. Winter squash take approximately three months longer to mature than the summer varieties and best harvested when the weather turns colder. Labeling squash by season is somewhat misleading today. Originally named because they store well in cool cellars, the winter varieties are actually available all year. Still our palates have grown accustomed to heavy thick skinned varieties showing up on our plates when the weather turns cold.
Special care should be taken when prepping the winter thick skin varieties since it is difficult to get a steady grip on the squash with your knife. Peeling these thick skin spheres also proves difficult, which is probably why so many are cooked in their skins till soft enough to scoop out the pulp. Many winter varieties of squash store up to 6 months in a well ventilated dry place at about 50°-55°F, and will keep best if their stems are in tack.
My favorite thing about Winter squash is that they lend themselves to every method of cooking: boiling, sautéing, steaming or baking (roasting), while the pulp makes fabulous quick breads, soufflés, custards and pies. No wonder there are so many ways to create variety in menus with squash!
No discussion of squash would be complete especially in October without mention of pumpkins, truly a North American native. The exact relationship to squash I am not sure—I leave that to the farmers, but I am told they one in the same. To me cooking the jack-o-lantern variety doesn’t really deliver results for the amount energy it takes. Except for roasting the seeds, I don’t cook those pumpkins. My produce guy brings me the sweet meat pumpkins that are great for soups and pies, and worth the effort.
Here now are a few of my favorite ways to prepare squash. Soup comes to the top of the list because of the time of year. I am also including my Zucchini mash, which is how I learned to like those watery wonders.

Here’s how I learned to love zucchini squash. Make them into a mash like potatoes with cream, and then season them well with fresh herbs. Now you’re talking. Note that the summer squash here will make their own liquid but must be watched so they don’t go dry and scorch.

HERBED END OF SUMMER SQUASH MASH
As needed EVOO
16 oz. Zucchini or yellow (or combination) squash, small dice
8 oz other winter squash, small diced
4 oz. onions, diced
1 TBS fresh fine herbs minced
2 TBS reduced cream*
To Taste sea salt
Method: Place all the cut vegetables and onions in medium sauce pot with a little EVOO . Allow vegetables to steam in the pan without adding water. Cook on medium heat for until tender, about 6-8 min. Roughly mash with potato masher. Add fresh herbs, cream and sea salt to taste. Serve immediately.
*To reduce cream: Start with twice what you want; place into pan over medium high heat. Bring to soft boil and continue a soft boil until evaporates to half the amount. Don’t leave the pot!
FINE HERBS
½ – 1 cup chervil, tarragon, chives, It. parsley
Method: Wash and pat very dry equal portions of herbs by volume; mince each and combine into a small bowl. Cover with paper towel and then plastic and refrigerate. It will keep a only a couple days after chopping so make only what you will use up in 2 days. The whole herbs keep longer in as whole herbs.

.

A great menu idea is to use the Curried version here served with Apple cheese turnovers and cilantro yogurt to round out the flavors.
ROASTED WINTER SQUASH SOUP (& CURRIED VARIATION)
2 #butternut squash, peeled, seeded, 1” pieces
to coat EVOO
2 carrots, 1” sliced
1 large onion, large dice
1 TBS thyme
1 qt chicken broth or water
4 teaspoon salt
¼ tsp ground pepper
Optional garnishes:
walnut oil
bleu cheese
toasted walnuts

Method: Preheat oven to 400ºF; place squash, carrots and onion in different roasting pans; drizzle each with olive oil, season with salt & pepper; roast about 45 to 60 minutes or until vegetables are tender and are beginning to caramelize; place vegetables in stockpot; add stock or water, thyme and salt & pepper; simmer until vegetables soften more; strain then purée the solids or pass them through a food mill; save the remaining liquid if desired to adjust consistency later; return purée to pot and adjust seasonings; garnish with walnut oil, bleu cheese and toasted nuts.

CURRY VARIATION: Add 2 TBS of good curry powder and 1 TBS of ground coriander while the onions are sautéing, then proceed as directed. Serve this version with Apple Turnovers and Cilantro Yogurt. (see recipes) Drizzle in some orange infused olive oil on the hot soup just before serving for optional pizzazz!

APPLE TURNOVERS WITH MANCHEGO CHEESE
Crust:
2 cups All Purpose flour
¼ tsp. sea salt
4 oz. shortening
4 oz. butter
½ cup iced water Filling:
1 TBS cinnamon
¾ cup sugar
5-7 Gravenstien or this seasons golden delicious apples, peeled & sliced
Pinch of sea salt and ½ tsp. ground coriander
Manchego (or white cheddar) cheese, about 1 cup crumbled/grated
1-2 TBS butter

Method: Pie crust: Combine flour and salt and sugar; mix to incorporate; add both fats and using a pastry blender, cut into flour; combine water, egg and vinegar into flour mixture and gently fold in to combine; place in plastic film and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour. Roll out dough and cut into 3 inch to 4 inch circles. Set aside on cookie sheet in refrigerator.
Filling: Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Combine cinnamon, sugar coriander and a pinch of sea salt; toss with the apples. On each circle of dough, place 1 TBS of filling and 1-2 tsp crumbled Manchego cheese. Dot with butter. Fold over making half circle, and crimp with fork. Bake 400°F for 15- 25 minutes.
CILANTRO YOGURT
1 cup yogurt, dried *
¼ red onion, minced
1 TBS cilantro, chopped
To taste: sea salt and freshly ground coriander Method: Hang yogurt in cheesecloth over bowl or in container large enough to drain; Refrigerate 24 hours before using. It will resemble cheese. Blend remaining ingredients. Season to taste with pinch of sea salt and freshly ground coriander. Serve a dollop on Winter Squash Soup.
This is a traditional recipe for gnocchi for fall. I prefer the yellow variegated or Italian sage that grows well here for this recipe because it is a heartier.
SWEET PUMPKIN GNOCCHI WITH SAGE BUTTER
1# potatoes, russets
1# sweet pumpkin, cut into pieces
1 ¾ – 2 cups AP flour
1 egg
Sea salt
Butter, as needed (1/4 cup)
¼ cup sage, rough chopped Method: boil the potatoes in their skins to cook, remove, peel and place through a ricer. Steam pumpkin until tender; remove meat from skin and place in ricer. Combine with potato; work in flour, egg and salt; dough should not be sticky to the touch. Roll into long cylinders on floured surface; cut into desired size and mark with fork or gnocchi paddle; place in boiling salted water and cook until they rise to the surface of the water; drain well – reserve on a sheet pan.
Sauce: Heat butter over moderate flame. Just as the butter begins to brown, add the chopped sage. Strain out the pieces of sage and toss butter with cooked gnocchi; season with pumpkin oil if available, salt pepper and coriander.