AUTUMN USUALLY COMES TO MIND FIRST when we think of squash, yet these vegetable-fruits are a part of our table for more than half the year.
The warm weather brings us the summer squashes to fill our garden: zucchinis, patty pans, and yellow crooknecks. Their massive leaves protect the soil from weed invasion. Their flowers become an edible treat or a beautiful landing pad for bumblebees. The fruit of these utilitarian garden cornerstones are a curiosity of their own. It is a bit peculiar to think of something as being “perfectly ripe” when it is immature, yet that is the case with summer squash. The zucchinis are firm, not spongy. Their rinds are tender and the squash are perfect to bring into the kitchen.
That window of ripeness is short during the long days of summer, however. We always intend to pick the squash when we should, but summer is filled with play and travel, and all too often those perfect tender zucchini swell to comical proportions during a few days’ absence. Fortunately, for every one lost to the compost pile, there are several others quickly taking its place.
As the weather changes to the cool air and crisp dryness of autumn, the summer squashes’ brethren take over our dinner tables, as winter squashes and their hearty comfort find a home on our plates. We begin to bundle up when we go outdoors, and in the kitchen we transition from grilling and searing to roasting and basting.
The winter squashes have been growing along their vines all summer. By autumn they are fully mature, their colors are deep and rich, their outer shells have hardened, and they are ready. With our busy holiday schedules, winter squash bring the added bonus of an incredible shelf life. Most will keep for months in a cool spot (not the refrigerator, though) without risk of spoilage.
The variety is tremendous. There is the classic pumpkin, with its relatives: sugar pumpkins, New England Pie pumpkins, and Cinderella pumpkins are all fantastic sources of homemade pumpkin puree. Butternut squash has to be one of our favorite squashes of all time. With its sweet, earthy, and nutty characteristics, the butternut pairs amazingly well with sage and mushrooms. Then there is the cute acorn squash. Resembling oversize nuts, they are perfect for roasting. Roasted in wedges, seasoned with anything from apples and brown butter to your favorite curry, they are an amazing addition to any autumn table. And don’t be lulled into thinking that all squash have the same texture. Spaghetti squash will separate into delicious spaghettilike strands after cooking, and it’s great with just about any pasta sauce we’ve thrown at it.
Fall is the feasting season. What better way to feast than with the diverse bounty of squash?
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