Monday, February 11, 2008

Squash: Not Bad If You Know How To Buy

Ok, they are not great. But every now and then I get the hunkering for winter squash. Although there are many varieties, I can always find either acorn or butternut at a local grocery. Its been ridiculously warm here on the Upper West Side all winter, so todays miserable, cold temperatures made me immediately think "squash." It also made me think "why did I take the Vespa to the hospital?" and "Will my life be the same after two of my toes freeze off?" but that is another story.

Although the squash you see here were stuffed with bread and mushrooms, I am going to concentrate today on the basic purchasing and preparation of butternut and acorn squash.

First a thing about buying them. Both squash are members of the "winter squash" group, meaning they are harvested in cool weather and can be stored for an extended period of time in a cool, dry place. One thing about buying squash in New York City is to make sure that the squash you buy have not exceeded this generous period of freshness: this is especially true in the late winter and spring.

When looking at winter squash, look for a firm, heavy feeling squash. The skin should be tough: soft skin is a sign that the squash was picked to early. Small variations in the color are not important. Holes and marks are no good. I like to thump them, but I'm not sure it adds anything to the process.

Cooking the squash is actually pretty easy. Cut in half, using a big, sharp knife. Clean out the seeds and stringy stuff. Butter a jelly roll and the exposed halves of the squash liberally. Add another pat of butter to the hole where the seeds were and place squash cut side down on the jelly roll. Preheat the oven to about 450 degrees.

Cooking time varies considerably depending on the size of the squash, but it takes at least 40 minutes and likely more. The squash are cooked when they are tender. I often flip the squash for the last few minutes to allow them to brown some more. Adding some more butter, particularly to the long flat parts of butternut squash, is not a bad idea, either.

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