There’s a chill in the air and first frost is rapidly approaching. After this weekend, if the forecast is correct, the growing season will be over for many of us in the upper Midwest, or at least predominantly so. Unless they are well protected in a hoop house or other form of frost cover, those tender annuals we’ve been nursing along all summer will succumb to the icy poke of early fall.
Cooler temps, the autumn shift to golden light and the awe-inspiring display of turning deciduous trees always gets me craving fall foods. Stews and roasts, soups of all kinds, cabbages steamed, sauteed, stuffed and grilled… Apple pies, apple sauce, apple crisp, apple cider, apple everything! And winter squash, of course.
Winter squash, named so for it’s ability to store well through long winters, is quite a versatile fruit. Squash can be baked, steamed or boiled. It can be transformed into creamy squash soup or a curried squash dip or sweet bread or muffins. Dozens of varieties adorn fall displays in an array of colors, shapes and sizes and incite joy in children and adults, alike. Winter squash may be one of the best gifts of the growing season and can last you quite a while if properly cared for. Often times winter squash sweetens with age, so don’t worry about setting them aside for a few weeks or even a month or two before cooking. Just check your fruits every so often to make sure they haven’t started to mold. If they do show soft spots or rot, cook them up before they spoil!
Winter squash stores best in a dark, cool dry spot that is not the refrigerator. See more about storing winter squash in Johnne’s post, below. And just for fun, you can view song lyrics and listen to a sound clip of the Incredible Winter Squash song, here.
This week in Local Choice CSA
Bifrost Farms – Plain Chevre
Essence Homestead – Potatoes, bell peppers and jalepenos
Hexagon Projects & Farm – Carrots, collard greens, leeks, winter radish and arugula
Mary Dirty Face Farm – Apples
Towering Heights Farm – Hot dogs
Valley Pasture Farm – Eggs, 1/2 chicken, plain ground pork and Sweet Dumpling squash
Winnowburrow Farm – Sauerkraut and fresh lemongrass
Lemongrass tips: Lemongrass can add delightful warmth and flavor to a dish and is easy to use. To flavor soup, the stalk is used – much like bay leaf – to flavor the broth and is removed before eating. It helps to bruise the stalk first by crushing or pounding it. Before adding lemongrass to a dish, make sure to remove the fibrous outer leaves of the stalk or the texture will not be palatable. Click here to explore recipe ideas using lemongrass.
Week 19 meal plans provided by Meg Wittnmeyer of Bifrost FarmsW
Meal #1 – Pork Stuffed Squash
2 medium-sized winter squash – Hearts of Gold, Acorn, Buttercup, or Sweet Dumpling would work well
1 pound pork sausage (plain ground pork cooked with 2 tablespoons Italian Seasoning mix or other dried herbs works well)
2 cups cauliflower rice
2 bell peppers chopped (you could kick it up a notch by replacing a bell pepper with a few jalepenos)
3 carrots – peeled & chopped
1/2 stick butter
A bit of cooking oil
Salt & Pepper
Arrange a rack in the lower-middle position of the oven and preheat to 375°F. Place the squash halves cut-side-down in a baking dish and pour in enough hot water to fill the pan by about 1/4 inch. Cover the dish loosely with aluminum foil. Roast the squash until very soft and tender when poked with a fork or paring knife, 30 to 50 minutes. Exact roasting time will depend on the size and variety of your squash.
Flip the cooked squash halves so they form bowls. Rub the inside with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Divide the filling between the halves – Cover again with the foil. Roast until heated through 15-20 minutes.
Serve with poached apples from Mary Dirty Face farm.
Meal #2 – Roasted Chicken and Leeks
Cut ½ chicken into pieces (bone in or deboned)
2 T. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 onion chopped
Salt and cracked pepper to taste
8 oz. thinly sliced mushrooms
2 Leeks, white parts sliced (discard woody green ends)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. For easy cleanup, line a sheet pan with aluminum foil or coat with oil. Lay out chicken, mushrooms and leeks in the pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with seasonings and herbs of choice and toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle garlic and onions over top of everything.Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes for deboned and 35 minutes for bone-in chicken. Remove foil and bake another 15 minutes or until chicken is browned.
Serve with sauteed collard greens and/or arugula, using favorite seasonings.
Digging deeper into nutrition with Johnne Smalley of Towering Heights Farm
Sauerkraut is finely cut raw cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria. It has a long shelf life and a distinctive sour flavor, both of which result from the lactic acid formed when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage leaves.
Sauerkraut is thought to have originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. Back then, fermentation was one of the methods used to keep foods from spoiling quickly. It has survived the test of time to become a popular side dish and condiment in many cultures. It’s especially appreciated in Germany, where its name comes from.
Due to the fermentation it undergoes, sauerkraut offers nutrition and health benefits beyond those of fresh cabbage. It contains many nutrients important for optimal health. However, unlike cabbage, sauerkraut can be high in sodium. Keep this in mind if you’re watching your sodium intake. One cup (142 grams) of sauerkraut provides you with:
- Calories: 27
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbs: 7 grams
- Fiber: 4 grams
- Protein: 1 gram
- Sodium: 39% of the RDI
- Vitamin C: 35% of the RDI
- Vitamin K: 23% of the RDI
- Iron: 12% of the RDI
- Manganese: 11% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 9% of the RDI
- Folate: 9% of the RDI
- Copper: 7% of the RDI
- Potassium: 7% of the RDI
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
If you find the flavour of canned or jarred Sauerkraut too pungent, you can rinse it in a colander under cold water, but many of the nutrients will be rinsed out too. Cooking it with potatoes or apples will also reduce the sour flavor.
Enjoy the taste and health benefits of winter squash. Although the specific amounts vary between the different types, generally you can count on winter squash for:
- High levels of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, which converts to Vitamin A.
- Good source of Vitamin C.
- Healthy source of fiber.
- Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds.
- Polysaccharides that help regulate and/or control blood sugar.
With a dozen common varieties readily available, choosing a winter squash to prepare can be confounding for the home cook.
This forest green, deeply ribbed squash resembles its namesake, the acorn. It has yellow-orange flesh and a tender-firm texture that holds up when cooked. Acorn’s mild flavor is versatile, making it a traditional choice for stuffing and baking. The hard rind is not good for eating, but helps the squash hold its shape when baked.
Acorn squash also has the best nutritional value of the common winter squashes thanks to its higher amounts of folate, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. One cup of cooked acorn squash provides more potassium (896 mg) than two bananas (844 mg).
Best uses: baking, stuffing, mashing.
A common heirloom variety, Buttercup has a buttoned turban at the blossom end, a dark green rind, and bright orange flesh. The flavor is sweet and can be used as a pumpkin substitute. It also stores well.
Best uses: baking, stuffing, mashing, pumpkin substitute.
These squash are named for their peanut-like shape and smooth, beige coloring. Butternut is a good choice for recipes calling for a large amount of squash because they are dense—the seed cavity is in the small bulb opposite the stem end, so the large stem is solid squash. Their vivid orange flesh is sweet and slightly nutty with a smooth texture that falls apart as it cooks. Although the rind is edible, butternut is usually peeled before use.
Best uses: soups, purees, pies, recipes where smooth texture and sweetness will be highlighted.
This oblong squash is butter yellow in color with green mottled striping in shallow ridges. Delicata has a thin, edible skin that is easy to work with but makes it a poor squash for long-term storage; this is why you’ll only find them in the fall. The rich, sweet yellow flesh is flavorful and tastes like chestnuts, corn, and sweet potatoes.
Best Uses: Delicata’s walls are thin, making it a quick-cooking squash. It can be sliced in 1/4-inch rings and sautéed until soft and caramelized (remove seeds first), halved and baked in 30 minutes, or broiled with olive oil or butter until caramelized.
These squash look a bit like a giant gray lemon, tapered at both ends and round in the middle. Another common heirloom variety, Hubbard has an unusual, brittle blue-gray outer shell, a green rind, and bright orange flesh. Unlike many other winter squashes, they are only mildly sweet, but have a buttery, nutty flavor and a flaky, dry texture similar to a baked potato.
Best Uses: baked or mashed, topped with butter, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
Pie pumpkins differ from larger carving pumpkins in that they have been bred for sweetness and not for size. They are uniformly orange and round with an inedible rind, and are sold alongside other varieties of winter squash (unlike carving pumpkins which are usually displayed separately from winter squash). These squash are mildly sweet and have a rich pumpkin flavor that is perfect for pies and baked goods. They make a beautiful centerpiece when hollowed out and filled with pumpkin soup.
Best uses: pies, custards, baked goods, curries and stews.
These football-sized, bright yellow squash are very different from other varieties in this family. Spaghetti squash has a pale golden interior, and is stringy and dense—in a good way! After sliced in half and baked, use a fork to pry up the strands of flesh and you will see it resembles and has the texture of perfectly cooked spaghetti noodles. These squash are not particularly sweet but have a mild flavor that takes to a wide variety of preparations.
Best uses: baked and separated, then mixed with pesto, tomato sauce, or your favorite pasta topping.
These small, four- to-six-inch round squash are cream-colored with green mottled streaks and deep ribs similar to Acorn. Pale gold on the inside, with a dry, starchy flesh similar to a potato, these squash are renowned for their rich, honey-sweet flavor.
Best uses: baking with butter, stuffed.
Winter squash storage life varies by type and conditions, but in general, delicata and acorn squash have the shortest storage life – about 4 weeks. Spaghetti and sweet dumpling go a little longer – 5 or 6 weeks, and butternut squash will last up to 6 months when properly stored! Store winter squash in a cool, dry, and dark place, such as a basement or closet (where sunlight won’t hasten its ripening) at 50° to 55° F with relative humidity of 50 to 70 percent—higher humidity can result in rot. Store the squash on a shelf or–rack not on the floor. Keep the skins of cured squash dry to prevent the growth of fungi and bacteria.
The best way to freeze raw butternut and other varieties of winter squash is in one-inch cubes, after first peeling it and removing the seeds. Peel and cut the squash into one-inch chunks. Spread the pieces in a single layer on a parchment or wax paper-lined baking sheet and place in the freezer.
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