Rymans. John Wilkin photos/the times leader
umpkin pie, pumpkin muffins — this time of year, those golden orbs are all around us, flavoring doughnuts and lattes alike.
The orange hue of a winter squash inspires many a cook — as should the tan, yellow, green or, ah, gray?
“I get a lot of people asking for gray ones, and other people want the orange” hubbard squash, said Art Ryman, presiding over the produce at the Mountainside Farm stand at the Wilkes-Barre Farmers Market on Thursday. Why do some prefer one over the other? “Just tradition,” he shrugged, explaining the flavor is the same.
Whatever your choice, winter squash has a long shelf life and provides a harvest of nutrients, including beta carotene.
A half cup of butternut squash, for instance, contains a whopping 230 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin A and only 40 calories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nutrition Web site, fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov. They provide a healthy dose of dietary fiber, too.
Though most winter squash can be used interchangeably in baking, you also can serve them for dinner – hence the popularity of the spaghetti squash.
“Halve it, seed it, roast it (at 350 F) or cook it in the microwave,” explains Mark Baiamonte of Covered Wagon Produce in Nuangola. Once it’s tender, “take a fork and pull it,” raking out long strands like spaghetti.
“You could serve it with sauce, you could serve it with butter and Romano cheese,” he said, suggesting garlic as a seasoning.
Due to the wet summer, there are not as many varieties as usual this year, said Harold Golomb Jr. of Golomb’s in Plains Township. But the most popular, acorn and butternut, are available.
Of the two, “butternut unfortunately has a drier texture, but they have a better flavor,” he said.
Many people like the acorn squash, according to Jane Strzelecki of Covered Wagon Produce.
She suggests cutting off the top, scooping out the seeds and baking the squash, cut side down, in a sprayed pan until tender. “When you can stick a fork in easily, they’re done.”
Flavor with the same spices you’d use for pumpkin.
“Butternut squash tastes like pumpkin,” she said, and can be used for pumpkin pie.
Covered Wagon Produce also had tiny squash she called “pokemon pumpkins.” (“They’re supposed to be sweeter than pumpkins,” Strzelecki said) and little orange pie pumpkins, which would take about an hour to bake, she said. She bakes a batch of them, purees the flesh and measures out the amount needed for her recipes. She freezes these portions and has a steady supply of pumpkin-pie filling at hand.
Winter squash also keeps well, so shoppers can stock up at the Farmers Market, which continues until Nov. 19, and have plenty of the vegetables to last through the frigid months to come.
“You keep them in a cool place, and they’ll keep for a very long time,” said Strzelecki, suggesting a basement rather than a refrigerator.
The following recipe from fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov is suggested as a dessert or side dish.
1 acorn squash (about 1 pound)
1 golden delicious apple, peeled, cored and sliced
2 teaspoons reduced-fat margarine, melted
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
dash ground cloves
Heat oven to 350ºF.
Grease a 1-quart baking dish. Halve squash and remove seeds; cut into quarters. Place quarters, skin side up, in dish and cover; bake 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in medium bowl, combine remaining ingredients.
Turn cut sides of acorn squash up; top with apple mixture. Cover and bake 30 minutes longer or until apples are tender. Serves four.
Variations: Quick microwave version — Halve and seed squash; cut into quarters. Arrange quarters, cut side up, in microwave-safe baking dish. Microwave on high (100 percent) 6 to 7 minutes, rotating squash halfway through cooking time. Top squash with apple mixture, cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on high 4 to 5 minutes or until apples are tender.
Preparation time: 45 minutes
Cups of fruits and vegetables per person: 0.50
The following side dish, also from fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov, provides 25 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin C.
1 unpeeled acorn squash, washed, halved, seeded and cut into 12 equal pieces
4 medium (about 2 pounds) unpeeled butter potatoes, washed and quartered
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sprig rosemary
Preheat oven on 425ºF.
Combine squash, potatoes and garlic in 9-by-13 shallow baking pan. Drizzle with oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Top with rosemary sprig.
Bake 45-50 minutes, turning once after vegetables are browned on one side.
Option: Squash may be peeled if desired.
Preparation time: 1 hour
Cups of fruits and vegetables per person: 0.75
Look for a smooth, dry rind without soft spots or cracks. You should not be able to easily nick or scrape the skin with a fingernail. The rind should be dull in appearance, and the squash should be heavy for its size. Choose squash with intact, dry stems.
The price of spice got you down? Consider blending your own pumpkin-pie spice, which can cost several dollars for a very small bottle. A quick online search reveals many similar recipes.
Try these proportions, or adjust to suit your own taste:
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves