The world of squash may seem overwhelming: What variety should I buy? How do I cut it? How do I cook it? How do I make it taste good? These are all questions I used to ask myself before I truly embraced these unique vegetables.
There are two classifications of squash: winter and summer. These classifications are based on their peak season and skin type. Winter squash have a hard skin and a center cavity filled with seeds. Their peak season is from October through March. Summer squash are more delicate with soft, edible skin and seeds that are normally not removed before eating. Their peak season is April through September. Both varieties of squash are now readily available all year long thanks to importing and, more importantly, demand.
Winter squash, I believe, are much more intimidating than summer squash. Their hard skin is enough to avoid using them, never mind the numerous choices and awkward shapes. When purchasing winter squash look for items with unbroken skin and good color for their variety. The two key points when it comes to preparing winter squash are: never eat winter squash raw and roasting is always better. Winter squash can be sautéed, steamed or stewed, but roasting will bring out the all the flavour and make your squash to die for.
This is my favourite in the winter squash family. This squash can be long and skinny or short and stout. Its bright orange flesh is a great addition to any bland-looking table. Here is as easy way to prepare butternut squash puree: simply cut the squash in half lengthwise, place flesh side up on a baking sheet with parchment, drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper, turn over and place flesh side down, bake in oven at 350*F until soft, take out of oven, allow to cool slightly, scoop out seeds and discard, scoop out flesh and place in a bowl, season with maple syrup and mash with a potato masher until smooth. Voila, butternut squash puree. This easy method can be used with all winter squash and can be used for any variation you prefer.
This interesting squash works well as a replacement for pasta. Its unique texture holds up well with sauces and salsas. Using the same roasting technique as butternut squash, you simply scrape the flesh of the squash out with a fork, leaving the long skinny noodle-like fibers intact.
Acorn squash is great for roasting in pieces. It maybe a little harder to cut as its skin can be very thick and tough. My suggestion for removing the skin is as follows: cut a ½-inch piece off the bottom and the same off the top (the squash will have a sturdy base to stand on), using a sharp knife slowly work your knife in a slight sawing motion down the side of the squash, cutting about a two-inch strip of skin at a time, work your way around the entire squash, once the skin is removed, cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds, cut the squash into pieces and place on a parchment covered baking sheet, season with olive oil, salt and pepper and place in oven at 350*F and roast until tender.
The king of squash (in my opinion) is used for the ever-popular pumpkin pie. I love to use it for soup, muffins and bread puddings. Pumpkin can be harder to find as most pumpkin sold at the grocery store is used for carving purposes only. A cost-effective way to get more pumpkin in your life is to buy canned pumpkin. This saves time and the mess involved with roasting the pumpkin and then pureeing it to use for other recipes.
Summer squash are extremely versatile and easy to use for any novice cook. They can be eaten raw, but are appropriate for grilling, sautéing, steaming or roasting. Different selections of summer squash may be harder to find at your local grocery store as their shelf life is not as long and stable. Many different selections are readily available at any farmer’s market in the summertime. Look for smooth, firm squash with few blemishes and avoid squash with soft, moist spots. Summer squash tend to have more of a bland flavour when cooked, therefore they are complimented by marinades, vinaigrettes and spice rubs exceptionally well.
This summer squash is commonly called courgette in the fine-dining world. This bland, soft squash is excellent for grilling and marinating. This squash is a perfect addition to any stir fry or vegetable salad as it takes on other flavours very well and is extremely easy to prepare.
This squash is a little harder to find, but if you find it, buy it! They are the perfect squash to stuff. An option is to cut them in half, grill on the BBQ and then stuff and bake in the oven. Anything from ratatouille to a rice mixture would be ideal to stuff this bright yellow squash. The possibilities are endless.
Available in a mini version or a large version, which is approximately the size of your fist or larger. This variety is great for roasting and sautéing. A simple drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper and a quick roast in the oven makes this squash a great addition to any meal. Add in your favourite spice blend to boost the flavour.
Squash is extremely delicious and can be an exciting addition to any table. Try something new, prepare a squash recipe and be ready to be wowed.
Melissa Hryb is the chef at Marion Street Eatery, where she specializes in hearty comfort food with a twist.
Follow her on Twitter @MarionStreetEat or Instagram @MarionStreetEatery