The Year of the Butternut Squash

Dear Friends,

This is the year of the butternut squash. My cute little plants started growing in June and haven’t stopped yet. The tough, ropey vines cover a quarter of my garden and they are still flowering. They produced squash so big it’s scary. One grew so large I hacked it off the vine early in fear of what it could become.  I cooked half of it Friday and by Monday we were still eating the leftovers.

Unless some of the blossoms out there turn into more butternuts, the last of my crop is now off the vine and safely tucked away in what I refer to as the root cellar (a small basement room with shelves), next to the potatoes. I have enough to squash to see me through the winter.

In hopes that I’ll actually use them all up before summer, I went on the offense last week and rounded up my favorite butternut squash recipes. I’ve probably forgotten some and I know there are great recipes I haven’t discovered yet, so don’t hesitate to send me your favorite.

The recipe I make most often is roasted cubed squash with dried cranberries, an easy side dish that chef Roger Thomas makes. No recipe is necessary for this one. Just peel and seed the butternut and cut into 1-inch cubes. Place in a buttered baking pan, dot with butter and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for about 30 to 45 minutes, stirring once, or until the squash is soft and the edges are starting to brown. Stir in a handful of dried cranberries.

Often I skip the butter, sugar and cranberries, gloss the cubes with olive oil, and roast them on a rimmed baking sheet, turning the cubes once. The cubes may be added to entrée salads, omelets or my favorite tacos. The taco filling of sweet caramelized squash, salty feta and spicy sausage is incredible.

Use a good, sharp vegetable peeler to strip the skin from the butternut squash. The right peeler can be the difference between efficiency and frustration. You’ll also need a sharp knife to cut the squash into cubes. I use a serrated grapefruit spoon to scoop out the seeds.

By the way, my big butternuts are puny compared to the jumbos grown in Florida. The largest butternut squash ever grown there was 23 pounds 7 ounces, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture. Now that’s scary.

CHORIZO-BUTTERNUT TACOS WITH FETA CHEESE 

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Olive oil spray
  • 1 poblano pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 large red onion, cut into paper-thin slices
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 4 links (about 12 oz.) fresh chorizo sausage
  • 8 6-inch corn tortillas
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • Cilantro leaves

Spread squash cubes on a baking sheet and spray with olive oil spray. Season lightly with salt. Roast uncovered at 400 degrees until tender and brown around the edges, about 30 to 45 minutes. At the same time, roast poblano pepper directly on an oven shelf, turning once, until skin is blistered all over. Remove pepper from oven, peel off skin, and cut flesh into thin strips, discarding seeds and stem. 

While squash and pepper cook, toss onions with lime juice and a sprinkling of coarse salt. Remove sausage from casing and brown in a skillet, breaking up with a fork. Stir in pepper strips and keep warm. 

Heat another skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough vegetable oil to film the bottom of the pan. Place a tortilla in hot skillet and cook for about 30 seconds on each side, until tortilla begins to brown in spots. Remove from skillet and start heating another tortilla while you fill the first one with some of the meat mixture, 4 or 5 squash cubes, some onions, 1 tablespoon cheese and a few leaves of cilantro. 

Continue with remaining tortillas and filling. Makes 8 tacos, which serves three to four.

 
THE MAILBAG

From Susie Stech:
Your homemade pizza recipe was perfect timing as I had just returned from vacation where my friend’s sister made us amazing homemade pizza. My question is about the dough. I don’t have a mixer with a dough hook, just the hand-held portable kind. How can I improvise on your recipe to make it work? Thanks.

Dear Susie: You can mix the dough by hand (you’ll burn out the motor of your hand mixer on a dough this dense). Maybe add a tablespoon of olive oil to make the dough a bit easier to work with. Put all but 1 cup of the flour in a bowl, stir in yeast and salt, and mix in water and oil little by little — first with a sturdy wooden spoon  and then with your hands when the dough becomes too hard to stir. Flour a work surface, dump out dough and start kneading in remaining flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Keep kneading until the gluten is fully developed. The dough will want to spring back each time you turn, fold and knead it. The kneading will take a good 10  minutes of steady work. I recommend you save up for a KitchenAid.

You can make a big batch and freeze the excess (in 1-pizza portions) after it rises.

From Maryann Aguilar, Stow:
We found an easier way to freeze fruit pies for later, and it avoids the soggy crust issue.

My husband watches football while peeling and cutting the fruit,  usually apple, and never seems to mind the labor. Cut and mix your fruits with all the other filling ingredients. Put in a freezer zip bag. Label and date. Shape into a pie pan — glass, metal, or aluminum disposable. Stack in the freezer. (After they’re frozen, you can remove the pie pans to re-use, or leave disposables in place for protection.)

When you’re ready to make a pie, use whatever crust you prefer — homemade, ready to unroll, or frozen shell. You can either place the frozen round of fruit right on the bottom crust, or thaw it slightly — depends on the fruit. Apples and peaches work well without thawing, and after all, you froze it round to fit the pan anyway.

If the recipe calls for dotting butter over the filling before putting on the top crust, add it now, and make a few  slashes with a sharp knife in decorative spots.  I use a pastry brush to lightly brush milk over the top crust, and sometimes sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Bake on a lined cookie sheet or pan with edges to avoid any drip mess. Use the usual time and baking temperatures, but check halfway for adjustments. When you see the filling bubbling up through the pie slits, then you know its completely done.

We like to use Cortland apples which aren’t always available everywhere. So when we see them we get a lot, and use this method to guarantee homemade pie ease throughout the winter and spring!
 
Dear Maryann: This is an excellent idea. I especially like the multi-tasking while doing the peeling.

From M.J. Neel, Twinsburg:
Hi Jane,  hope you or your readers can help find a recipe that was on the box of Pillsbury Pumpkin Bread and Muffin mix from years ago.  It was for pumpkin-cranberry cookies and was a favorite for friends and family alike at this time of year.  I looked on the Pillsbury website to no avail.  I can’t find my copy and it was so easy to make.  Thanks.

Dear M.J.: We’ll toss it out there and see if anyone can help. The cookies sound perfect for a fall snack.

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