I have a straightforward relationship with most vegetables. I like them. They like me. But when it comes to winter squash, things get more complicated.
Each fall, I welcome them into my home. And every spring, usher out a few, withered and dusty.
This approach/avoidance thing might have something to do with a — literal — run in I had with a spaghetti squash years ago. A colleague brought one into work and, inspired by its football-shape, started tossing it around the breakroom. All very fun until I ended up in the emergency room getting several stitches in my lip.
So, who knows? Maybe I suffer from post-traumatic squash disorder. Or maybe it’s the sweet, soft, one-note quality of winter squash. Butternut squash soup? Three spoonfuls, and I’m done.
Having confessed my biases, I’m nevertheless motivated to embrace winter squash. After all, they’re super nutritious, very versatile, and if you know anyone with a garden, practically inescapable.
A friend brought me three varieties from her hyperactive garden, which is how I came to spend my vacation immersed in a winter squash challenge. The goal was to create delicious, uncomplicated (vacationing near Yellowstone means keeping it simple) dishes using delicata, butternut, and the dread spaghetti squash.
Delicata is also called sweet potato squash because of its edible thin skin, creamy texture and mild, earthy flavor. Consider it a gateway vegetable for those of us who aren’t so keen on winter squash.
I tossed ½-inch thick slices of the delicata with salt and a little olive oil and spread it out on a sheet pan. I roasted it in a 425° oven for about 20 minutes, turning once midway. A drizzle of browned butter with chopped sage and thyme finished the dish. I’ll be making variations on this theme in the months ahead (Brussels sprouts, red grapes or apple would be fine additions).
Faced with a large butternut squash I made three dishes. First was a Thai coconut curry made easy with panang curry paste (Thai curry paste is widely available and so much easier than trying to source lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime peel, shrimp paste and other ingredients).
Next up was a butternut/potato/onion hash topped with a poached egg. Squash has more than twice the potassium as potatoes, adding both nutrition and flavor to the hash.
The third dish was fritters made with equal parts shredded butternut and granny smith apple. This is one of those dishes that straddles the line between sweet and savory. You could serve it with maple syrup at breakfast or a dollop of sour cream in the evening.
Finally, I tackled the spaghetti squash. I split and seeded the squash, roasted it cut-side down just until soft, then used a fork to shred the interior into strands.
Since spaghetti squash is so very, very bland, I amped up the flavor with ground pork and a spicy Szechuan sauce.
The result was more squish than squash and altogether unappetizing. Leading me to wonder: Is “spaghetti squash” just a brazen marketing ploy, or are there people actually making delicious dishes that give legitimacy to the name?
My winter squash challenge led me to the following conclusions:
Spaghetti squash — my relationship with you is over, kaput, fini.
Butternut — Fine, sure, whatever.
Delicata — you are welcome at my table anytime.