So, it is *almost* fall here in Texas. The weather is getting crisp and cool, I turned on the heater for the first time, but still, no color changing leaves. I may be waiting for another month to get those.
Nonetheless. It must still be fall. And the squashes are among the most beautiful thing at my farmer's market. In the last month I've bought and cooked sweet sugar pie pumpkins, green and white speckled kalbocha with deep orange flesh, nutty acorns, creamy butternuts and a gorgeous blue-gray Jarrahdale that looks as good as it tastes. Squash is edible autumn to me.
I know that butchering a squash is among the most challenging of all produce. They are so hard. Here are some of my solutions. Yes, I really do these.
1.Microwave. Put the entire thing in the mircowave for 1-5 minutes to start the cooking process and soften the beast. Pull it out and it will be MUCH easier to peel and cut.
2.Just drop it. Take it out side and drop in on the sidewalk and it will crack. Then, take it inside, wash it off and away you go.
3. Don't chop. Once you've cracked it in half, scoop out the seed and cook the halves. You can microwave cut side down or bake them in the oven and then easily scoop the cooked flesh away from the peel and use in any recipe that cooks the squash down to a puree or mash as part of the final product.
4. If you do chop, do extra. I love having extra chopped squash in the freezer or fridge for a future meal. Just turn on a podcast you've been wanting to listen to and chop away.
5. If you are taking a "hat" off the top of a pumpkin so you can use it whole, cut at a 45 degree angle, it makes it much easier to remove. And it is safer.
5. When you just don't have time, buy a delicata squash. They are delicious and don't require peeling, just seeding.
Now you have know how to do it. So get cooking.
Here is a recipe I made last week that was a total stick-to-your-ribs kind of dinner. Great stuff. While he was eating this one, Justin, asked how the sage flavor carried so well. I pointed to the crisp, crumbled leaves on top of his pasta. Frying the sage really unlocks the flavor and carries it through the dish with the oil. Fresh sage is pairs so well with squash and is another autumn standard around here. Don't susbstitue dry, rubbed sage. It will not be the same here.
Pasta Pan-Fried with Butternut Squash and Fried Sage
tweaked from the kitchn
1 medium butternut squash
1 small onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves
3/4 pound farfalle or penne pasta
3/4 cup pine nuts or sunflower seeds, toasted
4 ounces high quality Parmesan, shredded or shaved (about a cup total)
Heat the oven to 375°. Peel the squash. Cut the butternut squash in half and scoop out the strings and seeds the middle cavity. Cut the squash into 1-inch cubes. Toss with the onion, garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. Mince about half of the fresh sage leaves and also toss with the squash.
Spread the squash mixture in a thin layer on a large baking sheet and roast for about 40 minutes or until the squash is soft.
Heat salted pasta water to boiling and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside. As the squash finishes roasting, heat about two tablespoons of olive oil in a large high-sided sauté pan. The oil is ready when it pops and sputters. (Don't let it start smoking.) Drop in the rest of the sage leaves and fry for about a minute, or until they begin to just shrivel up.
Remove with a slotted spoon and salt lightly. Crush with the back of a spoon.
Add half the pasta to the pan, along with half the roasted squash mixture. Crumble in half the sage. Cook, stirring frequently, for five minutes or until the pasta is heated through and getting crispy on some of the edges. Add the pine nuts or sunflower seeds and cook for another minute. Stir in half the cheese and serve.
(Repeat the last step with the rest of the ingredients. Split is into two if none of your pans are big enough to accommodate the entire recipe. It's very important that you not crowd the pan too much - you want the pasta to really pan-fry, not just steam up.)
If that doesn't tempt you, here are two of my other squash favorites:
Do you cook squash? What is the weirdest squash you've ever cooked with?