Is it even fall in Vermont without a squash baking in the oven?
Just as we look for the signs of spring each year, the appearance of squashes on our countertops, dotting our porches, and overflowing from baskets in the mudroom is as sure a sign of fall as any other. For the squash-lovers among us, it is a reason to rejoice. Or at least, to bake one with some butter and maple syrup.
“You either like squash or you don’t,” says George Gross, the owner of Dog River Farm in Berlin. He says squash is one of those things every Vermont farmer grows a lot of. Those who do like squash, he points out, like all of the varieties, and he grows a lot of them: butternut, buttercup, delicata, red kuri, acorn and blue Hubbard, which he says is “a big ugly New England favorite.”
On a drizzly, cold fall day, Gross had just finished sending two pallets of Vermont-grown squashes to Whole Foods Northeast, one of his wholesale buyers, as he explained that his farm store on Route 12 will have plenty of squashes for sale until about Christmas-time.
Squash is a great staple for fall and winter cooking because it’s affordable and stores for a long time, as long as it’s kept in a cool, dry place. Plus, leftovers can easily be saved or frozen for future meals. It’s also incredibly versatile. In my own kitchen, I’ve added it to vegetable lasagna, countless soups and stews, risotto, curries, and diced into vegetarian chili. And they can meet the needs of your sweet tooth, too: Cooked squash fits easily into morning glory muffins or cakes, and any squash can serve as a stand-in for pumpkin in your favorite pie or cheesecake recipe. Squashes also serve up a host of health benefits, including vitamins A and C, fiber, and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, plus they help regulate blood sugar.
Squash is easy to grow in your own garden, but for those who didn’t this year, many Vermont farmers will have you covered, as Gross pointed out. As a bonus during this pandemic year, when many people are spending more time cooking at home, squashes grew very well this year.
Gross says this was a particularly good year for squash. Even though the growing conditions were dry — too dry for potatoes and onions, for example — the squashes seemed to do well. It’s an odd result in a dry year, for a vegetable that is large and contains a certain amount of water, but nonetheless, he says he had the least amount of unmarketable squash or diseased plants that he’s seen in a long time.
When it comes to squashes — and Gross says he is a squash lover — his favorite way to take in the fall flavor is by roasting a delicata. He cuts them into rings, and tosses them in olive oil and pepper, and then puts them in the oven until they start to turn brown and crispy at the edges. Then, you can simply pop them in your mouth, skin and all. Delicata is a great squash, he says, for those who don’t particularly like squashes, because the higher sugar content in this squash makes them caramelize while roasting, and the result is delicious, even to some non-squash fans.
But when it comes to squash, I’m not sure there is a better way to enjoy it than in a warming soup. Here are my two favorite recipes for adding vivid squash color and heart-warming flavor to fall’s cold, grey days.
Coconut-Curried Winter Squash Soup
This recipe wows the palette with its winter squash-meets-tropical combination of flavors. It is from “Recipes from the Root Cellar” by Vermont author Andrea Chesman. © Andrea Chesman, 2010. All rights reserved.
1 medium buttercup, butternut or red kuri squash, or 1 small baby blue Hubbard squash (3-4 pounds), halved and seeded
2 tablespoons peanut, sunflower or canola oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely minced
1 (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1½ cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
Juice of 1 lime (or about 2 tablespoons), or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼-cup chopped fresh cilantro
1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2) Place the squash skin-side up in a baking dish. Add 1 inch of water to the baking pan. Bake for about 1 hour, until the squash is completely tender when pierced with a fork. Let cool slightly.
3) While the squash cools, heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, jalapeno, ginger and curry. Simmer until the spices are fragrant and the garlic just begins to color, about 5 minutes. Do not let the spices scorch or they will become bitter. Remove from heat.
4) Scoop the flesh from the squash skin. Combine half the squash in a blender with half the spices and half the broth. Puree until smooth. Transfer to a saucepan. Repeat with the remaining squash, broth and spices.
5) Add the coconut milk and lime juice to the soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding salt, pepper and lime juice as needed.
6) Reheat over medium heat, stirring frequently. Stir in the cilantro and serve hot.
Butternut Squash and Cheddar Soup
This squash soup highlights the winning combination of locally grown butternut squash with Vermont’s own cheddar, sour cream and butter. The result is a hearty soup that is a meal on its own. This recipe was provided by Cabot Cheese.
2 pounds butternut squash, seeded, peeled and cut into chunks
4 cups homemade chicken stock or prepared chicken broth
1 cup Cabot sour cream
4 ounces Cabot sharp cheddar, grated (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon Cabot salted butter
¼-teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
Salt and ground pepper to taste
1-tablespoon sugar (optional)
Chopped fresh chives for garnish
1) Combine squash and stock or broth in a large pan; bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, cover pan and simmer squash for 20 minutes or until very tender.
2) Uncover and let cool. Puree in blender or food processor, in batches if necessary.
3) Return puree to saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Stir in sour cream, cheese, butter, and red pepper. Add salt and ground pepper to taste. If squash lacks sweetness, add optional sugar.
4) Stir soup just until heated through (do not allow to boil). Serve sprinkled with chives.