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Squash

Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes, Shallots and Mushrooms

By Barbara Beltrami

A recent trip to a farm stand out east provided more than I had bargained for. I had stopped to pick up winter squash as an accompaniment to a flavorful main dish. But when I beheld the cornucopia of varieties gorgeous and green and gold, earthy and tawny, tumbling from crates and mounded in baskets, I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I wanted to buy them all. However, I showed remarkable restraint and took home just a couple of spaghetti and acorn squashes. Then I couldn’t decide between the following two recipes so I made them both! 

Stuffed Winter Squash

YIELD: Makes 4 to 8 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

1 large, 2 medium or 4 small winter squash, any variety

3/4 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs

¹/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Chopped leaves from one handful Italian flat-leaf parsley

2/3 cup pignoli nuts

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano, thyme or sage

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 F. Wash, halve and seed the squash. With a sharp spoon scrape out flesh until only half an inch is left inside the shell. Place flesh in a food processor and puree until as smooth as possible. Transfer to a medium bowl; add breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, nuts, pepper and herbs; and mix thoroughly. Scoop mixture into hollowed-out shells; dot with butter. Fill a shallow baking pan with one to two inches of water; then place the filled shells in the pan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 minutes more, until tops begin to turn golden brown. Serve immediately with Italian sausages, pork or poultry and couscous or wild rice.

Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes, Shallots and Mushrooms

Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes, Shallots and Mushrooms

YIELD: Makes 4 to 8 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

2 small spaghetti squashes

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 small shallots, minced

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, basil or thyme leaves, minced

5 to 6 large fresh Roma tomatoes, finely chopped

4 to 6 ounces fresh white mushrooms, diced

DIRECTIONS:

Wash and quarter the squash. With a spoon, scoop out seeds. Place wedges skin side down in a large skillet and fill it with two inches of water or just enough to touch bottoms of wedges. Cover and cook over low-medium heat 20 minutes or until very tender. Check occasionally to be sure water hasn’t boiled away. Remove squash from heat and when it is cool enough to handle, scrape flesh into a medium bowl. Add two tablespoons butter, salt and pepper; mash and mix thoroughly. Set aside to keep warm.  

In a medium skillet melt two tablespoons butter; add shallots and herbs. Sauté until barely tender; add tomatoes; sauté five minutes more until they are barely cooked. Add mushrooms and sauté another 5 minutes. Place squash mixture in a large serving bowl and top with shallot-tomato mixture and serve immediately as a main or side dish with poultry, beef, lamb or pork.

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Ann Marie's Farmstand in Port Jefferson Station displays some of the many different varieties of squash available in the fall. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Squash, the genus Cucurbita, are grown today extensively throughout the world as a food source. They are one of the Three Sisters (corn, beans and squash), which were developed in the Americas and then taken by European explorers back home.

One of them, zucchini is so closely associated with Italian cooking that most people don’t realize that it is a native of the Americas, not Italy.

Squash are generally grouped in two categories, summer squash and winter squash. Most are vines and, although some are perennials, they are grown in temperate regions as annuals. The plants easily self-seed. I’ve even seen them growing along sidewalks from seeds that overwintered from decorative pumpkins left outside.

Incidentally, although gourds look similar to squash, they are not native to the Americas, but rather Africa.  The same is true of melons. Gourds and melons, however, are related to squash (family Cucurbitaceae, but a different genus).

Ann Marie's Farmstand in Port Jefferson Station displays some of the many different varieties of squash available in the fall. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Ann Marie’s Farmstand in Port Jefferson Station displays some of the many different varieties of squash available in the fall. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Squash, botanically are fruit, in the same way that tomatoes are. They are the ripened seed pod of the plant. Summer squash are harvested in summer, before the skin hardens. Summer squash include zucchini, yellow summer squash, scallop squash and yellow crookneck squash.

Winter squash are harvested in fall, after the skin has hardened. Therefore, these squash need to be peeled before use. Varieties of winter squash include hubbard squash, turban squash, pumpkin, butternut squash, acorn squash and spaghetti squash. We tend to think of winter squash as traditionally served at Thanksgiving (pumpkin pie and butternut squash in particular); however, spaghetti squash is available in supermarkets year round and is frequently roasted and served with tomato sauce, in place of spaghetti made from wheat to cut down on carbs.

Squash are known for their high vitamin content (particularly A) and trace minerals, making them an excellent addition to the diet.

My favorite butternut squash recipe takes butternut squash cubes cooked with sausage, thyme, salt and pepper in a skillet in chicken or beef broth with some onions until the sausage and squash are done.

Squash blossoms are edible as well. The ones generally seen in markets are zucchini blossoms. They are usually fried, but they can be baked, stuffed with cheese and spices, served with spaghetti or in soups. There are plenty of recipes online to satisfy all.

Since zucchini plants are so prolific, you’ll still get plenty of squash if you eat some of the flowers.

Squash grows in a wide variety of soil types but does need fertilizer (for example, composted manure). They produce the most fruits in sun. They grow in a soil pH of 5.5 to 7.5 (very acidic to mildly alkaline, with 7 being neutral). They can be grown in large containers, so if you have a small yard, you can put the container on a deck or patio.

According to the seed company Burpee, cucurbits don’t like to have their roots disturbed, so either plant them directly outside, start them in peat pots, which can be planted whole in the garden, or buy seedlings from a nursery, being careful not to disturb the roots. They also suggest adding fertilizer when the plants begin to blossom and set fruit since squash are heavy feeds (like tomatoes).

Like tomatoes, these are tender plants. They like warm soil (so don’t put them out too early in a cool spring) and need a steady supply of water, so be aware of weeks of little or no rain.

Winter squash can also be used as outdoor decorations in the fall. Some squash develop into really weird shapes naturally while others are accidental crosses between two varieties producing things like green pumpkins.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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