Hearty winter squash great for variety of dishes

January 27, 1999|By Carol J. G. Ward | Carol J. G. Ward,Knight Ridder/Tribune

Winter squashes and pumpkins capture the imagination with their kaleidoscope of shapes, sizes and colors. They are hearty, versatile vegetables with a rich history as one of the mainstays of American Indian diets.

Members of the gourd family, winter squashes have hard, thick shells and deep yellow to orange flesh with a buttery, slightly sweet flavor. They are high in beta-carotene and provide good amounts of potassium, fiber and vitamin C.

Winter squashes are firmer than summer squashes and therefore require longer cooking. They are best baked or stewed. To bake squashes, halve them lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Place them cut side down in a baking dish filled with water to a depth of 1/2 inch. Bake at 350 degrees until tender.

Though most varieties are available year-round, winter squash is best from early fall through the winter. Choose squashes heavy for their size and having a hard, deep-colored rind free of blemishes or moldy spots. The hard skin of a winter squash protects the flesh and allows it to be stored longer than summer squash. It does not require refrigeration and can be kept in a cool, dark place for a month or more, depending on the variety.

Winter squash lends itself to a wide variety of recipes, from casseroles to stuffed pasta. Mashed or pureed cooked squash can add body to soups and baked goods.

It also is good on its own, baked and then smothered in butter and brown sugar or sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and fresh mint.

Saute winter squash with butter, shallots and red pepper flakes; then season with salt and pepper. Or cook it and puree it with butter, thyme, cayenne pepper and salt and pepper.

Try adding a mixture of butter, lime juice and chili powder to the cavity of roasted winter squash, or roast it with a little olive oil and other vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, turnips or garlic, seasoned with garlic and thyme.

Winter squashes also make eye-catching, edible containers for a variety of stuffings such as rice pilaf or corn bread or fruits and nuts.

The hard seeds of winter squashes and pumpkins can be cleaned and toasted for snacks, garnishes and baking.

To toast the seeds, scoop them out of the squash, rinse well and remove all the membrane. Blot the seeds dry; then spread them in a single layer on a heavy, rimmed baking sheet.

Toast the seeds in a preheated 350-degree oven until they are crisp, about 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool slightly; then crack open the outer shells and remove the seeds. Store in an airtight container.

Acorn Squash Stuffed With Wild Rice

Serves 6

7 cups water

2 cups wild rice (about 12 ounces)

3 small acorn squash (each about 10 to 12 ounces), cut in half, seeded

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups finely chopped onions

2 teaspoons crumbled dried sage leaves

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons dried cranberries (about 3 1/2 ounces)

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons chopped toasted hazelnuts (about 3 ounces)

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Bring 7 cups water and rice to boil in heavy large saucepan. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 1 hour. Drain. Transfer rice to large bowl.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Oil a baking sheet. Place squash, cut side down, on sheet. Bake until tender, about 40 minutes. Cool.

Using a spoon, scoop out pulp from squash, leaving a 1/4 -inch-thick shell; reserve shells. Transfer pulp to medium bowl. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onions; saute until very tender, about 15 minutes. Add sage; stir 2 minutes.

Add rice, squash pulp and lemon juice; stir until mixed, breaking up squash pulp into smaller pieces. Mix in 1/2 cup cranberries, 1/2 cup hazelnuts and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide rice mixture among reserved squash shells. Place in roasting pan. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover and chill.)

Bake squash until filling is heated through, about 25 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 3 tablespoons cranberries and 3 tablespoons hazelnuts.

-- From Bon Appetit

Per serving: 420.1 calories; 12.84 grams protein; 64.64 grams carbohydrate; 14.11 grams total fat; 10.90 milligrams cholesterol; 3.361 grams saturated fat; 9.153 grams dietary fiber; 170.4 milligrams sodium; 7.065 grams sugar; 748.2 retinol equivalents vitamin A; 34.85 milligrams vitamin C; 115.6 milligrams calcium; 2.040 milligrams iron; 0 grams alcohol

Spaghetti Squash Salad

Serves 8

2 1/2 cups cooked spaghetti squash

3/4 cup chicken stock

3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, without oil

1 cup mushrooms, sliced

1/4 cup onions, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1 teaspoon basil

1/4 teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons chopped walnuts

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To cook squash, halve lengthwise and discard seeds. Place squash, cut side down, in a baking dish. Add 1/2 inch of water. Bake 40-45 minutes, or until squash is tender. Remove squash from water and cool.

Remove the spaghetti-like strands by scraping squash with a fork.

Boil stock in a nonreactive saucepan. Add sun-dried tomatoes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand 10 minutes. Remove tomatoes, coarsely chop and set aside.

Add next 3 ingredients to stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes or until liquid is reduced by two-thirds.

Combine cooked squash with fresh tomatoes, basil and pepper to taste in a bowl. Add sun-dried tomatoes and mushroom mixture and toss well. Serve sprinkled with walnuts and cheese.

-- From mymenus.com

Per serving: 168.0 calories; 7.205 grams protein; 7.561 grams carbohydrate; 12.64 grams total fat; 13.47 milligrams cholesterol; 2.201 grams saturated fat; 2.719 grams dietary fiber; 224.7 milligrams sodium; 3.124 grams sugar; 79.20 retinol equivalents vitamin A; 9.825 milligrams vitamin C; 51.28 milligrams calcium; 1.218 milligrams iron; 0 grams alcohol

Pub Date: 01/27/99

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