Growing up, there was one type of squash in my house–the yellow maraca-shaped gourds that were either sliced up and fried or put in a bland casserole. I left my small southern town with no love for the vegetable, but after developing an interest in food and cooking during college, the world of squash opened up and I was amazed at its diversity.
Butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash?!? The gourd’s versatility is endless, and while fall isn’t the best time for fresh produce lovers, nature offers the concession of the hearty, colorful squash for us foodies to experiment with.
My mother and I often share successful recipes with one another, and on a recent phone call, she told me she had a great new risotto recipe.
“I do too,” I told her. “I just made this risotto last night with butternut squash, bleu cheese—“
“And rosemary,” she finished with me, laughing. Somehow we had both discovered this awesome recipe from Gourmet on the same night, and it’ll definitely stay in my winter rotation.
As a self-admitted pasta-holic, I’m always looking for healthy alternatives to heavy Italian fare, and I absolutely love spaghetti squash prepared as a simple pasta dish. After preheating the oven to 375 degrees, I halve the spaghetti squash, scrape out all the seeds and get out some frustrations by stabbing the outside of the squash with a fork. I bake it, flesh down, on a cookie sheet covered by aluminum foil for about 30 minutes, or until I can easily poke a fork into it, and then I let it cool until I can handle it.
Because the spaghetti squash doesn’t have a whole lot of taste on its own, it can handle a robust sauce. I like to sauté a small onion, several garlic cloves (I like lots), a large can of diced tomatoes (or home-canned are even better), some fresh basil, a little balsamic vinegar, a large dash of red pepper flakes and whatever other Italian spices are on hand. While that simmers, I use a fork to scrape out the thin “noodles” from the squash, and while they’re still a little warm, I mix in fresh grated parmesan cheese, which really helps pump up the flavor. Top it with the sauce and voila! A basic Italian meal with maybe half the calories of regular pasta.
Butternut squash soup is also great this time of year–even its color seems just right for the season. I’ve been trying out some different recipes, but I really enjoyed this Roasted Pear-Butternut Soup with Crumbled Stilton from The Food Network.
In my latest squash adventures, my boyfriend has challenged me to make a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving… with real pumpkin. I’ve tried to tell him that even Rose Levy Beranbaum, the queen of pie, uses the filling out the can, but I think it’s a challenge I might take on. If you have any tips, let me know.