Three Winter Delights

Squash is such an underrated food – you can basically prepare it however you want, and know that the outcome will be (more or less) outrageously delicious. This is the time of year I eat winter squash with practically everything, and wanted to share three fun recipes I’ve enjoyed thus far: Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash, Spaghetti Squash with Kale-Pepita Pesto, and Butternut Squash & Apple Soup.
Winter SquashWinter squash is somewhat of an anomalous title – they are actually grown during the summer months, alongside the well-known “summer” squash varieties. The main difference is that winter squash is harvested only after it reaches full maturity, which traditionally falls in September or October (depending on the region). At this stage, the fruit has developed a tough, shell-like rind that ensures preservation into the winter months (hence the title!) The flesh and seeds are the edible components, making them a coveted source of food across the western hemisphere. Because I’m a total nerd: winter squash are of the genus Cucurbita, which was originally cultivated within the Andes and Mesoamerican regions. But enough with the “science”, let’s get to the good stuff 🙂
Acorn SquashWhen I was a kid, acorn squash was one of those “side dish staples” in my mother’s cooking repertoire. Her recipe was simple, but terribly addictive: a large pat of butter, a spoonful of brown sugar, and a dash of salt. 40 minutes later a candied bowl of goodness would be ready to eat. While my adult self would love to believe this is good enough for a meal, I knew that something heartier (and a little healthier) would be a safer path to follow. So with that in mind…
Stuffed Acorn Squash 1Voilà! Quinoa Stuffed Acorn SquashMy grown-up take on an acorn squash. Though they aren’t as tough/sturdy as “practical gourds” (inedible fruit whose rinds are used as food vessels, musical instruments, etc) the shape and size of acorn squash make them ideal serving “bowls”. Many a soup, risotto, and casserole has found its way into this charming cup, so basically anything that be used for stuffing. My recipe consisted of quinoa, red lentils, raisins, and spinach – the result was fantastic, and were even better the next day. Click HERE to see the recipe for this hearty and nutritious meal!
Spaghetti Squash 1Spaghetti squash – the “paleo pasta” that Pinterest can’t seem to get enough of. I’ve actually been curious to try this for quite some time, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy and delicious it turned out. You can cook it any number of ways: boil, roast, microwave (though the thought of exploding squash comes to mind on the latter…) Once done, you simply rake a fork through the strands to yield a fiber-packed “spaghetti” with half the carbs.
Kale PestoMy sister sent me an edible arrangement for my birthday, which was jam-packed with chocolate-covered everything. Surprisingly enough, the basket’s “filler” was a massive heap of curly kale! My initial excitement wore off once I discovered there were nearly 6 cups of the stuff hidden in the basket. I toyed around with a few ideas, recalling how I still have way too many pepitas in my house (but can you ever have too many pepitas? We’ll shelve this discussion for later). That’s when it dawned on me: Spaghetti Squash with Kale-Pepita Pesto!
Spaghetti Squash 2It is definitely not your typical pesto, but my god was it good!  The kale creates an even deeper green than the traditional herb varieties, and the pepitas are a lovely alternative to the pine nut and walnut norms. A word of caution – I am known to enjoy atypical fare, and this certainly falls into that category. Sticking with a traditional pesto might be a safer bet for those who know their limits. While the resulting dish looked a little bit like something Nemo might eat, it was really delicious – click HERE to see the recipe!
Butternut Squash Soup 2In considering the innumerable ways of preparing squash, hands-down my favorite preparation is a warm soup with fall spices.  There have been time I’ve sprinted to the subway post-work knowing that a warm bowl of pumpkin soup could be mine as soon as I got home. This thought alone has abated even though most oppressing winters in Boston. I may be unique in my obsession, but this Butternut Squash & Apple Soup has the potential to make anyone a believer. Butternut squash has a naturally sweet taste, but is more subtle than sweet potato or acorn squash. It pairs well with a number of spices, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger (to name a few!).
Butternut SquashThere is one thing worth mentioning about this fabulous food group…certain squash can be a real pain in the butt when it comes to prep work. Trying to halve one of these takes the skill of a samurai, and peeling the rind is something I try to avoid at all costs. Luckily, this butternut squash recipe is fairly straightforward and you can make it days in advance (but if you’re like me, it won’t last long). The result is a soup that can bring warmth to even the coldest of winter days – click HERE to see the recipe for this cozy dish!
Butternut Apple Soup 1The contextual possibilities of squash make it an eclectic food source – soups, pies, pastas, muffins, you name it! What’s remarkable about this fruit is the ease and suitability it lends to each of its applied settings: whether it is a savory casserole or a candied treat. An appropriate analogy for classical music can be applied to the many hats that composers are often encouraged to wear throughout their career. One unique example is Jacques Ibert: a French composer whose style (both musically and professionally speaking) never adhered to a specific theme. Musically, Ibert’s compositions never adhered to a single style – he claimed that “all systems are valid provided that one derives music from them”. From operas to incidental music to chamber settings, Ibert’s music run the gamut of genres and styles. Professionally, Ibert had multiple careers – he was the director of the Académie de France à Rome for over 20 years, served on professional committees for the arts, and was an active conductor. In homage to the three recipes of this post, I chose Ibert’s Trois Pièces Brèves for the musical pairing. Written in 1930, this charming work for woodwind quintet is less than 10 minutes in length. The unique sound and texture of this ensemble is captured quite beautifully, with Ibert previewing the strengths and nuances of each instrument. The opening is lively and exuberant, which then transitions to a pensive duet between the flute and clarinet, and ends with a somewhat serious yet joyous finale. The below recording is by the Wind Quintet from the Danish National Symphony circa 2010 – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Winter Squash,” Wikipedia.com
“Jacques Ibert,” Wikipedia.com
“Stanford Woodwind Quintet: April 6, 2008 – Program Notes,” Friends of Chamber Music

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