Thursday, 27 September 2012

Cooking with Winter Squashes

When  you think of squashes, most people just think of butternut squash, but there are many different types of squash to cook with some small, some large, some thin, some fat . . .  all shapes and sizes really.
Summer squashes like courgettes have soft skins, while winter squashes, like pumpkins, butternut and acorn, have hard skins. These tough skins protect the tender flesh inside, meaning that whole squashes can be stored for months.
When you’re shopping for winter squashes make sure you choose squashes with firm, undamaged skins. Due to their hard skins, some varieties of winter squashes can be difficult to chop, but one great way to cut down on the chopping work is to roast large slices of squash still on the skin, then scrape the cooked flesh off. Roasting is a great way to cook squash because it brings out its flavour and natural sweetness.
There are so many great ways of cooking squashes. You can use them to make a smooth-textured soup or add chunks to soups, stews or risottos. Roast squash can be mixed with butter and a touch of cream into a fantastic puree.
In Italy, they use squash puree as a filling for tortellini, delicious served simply with a little sage fried in butter. Flavours that go well with winter squash include cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, orange zest, onion, garlic and sage.
A little tip for you when you’re preparing your squash – don’t throw the seeds away. Instead toss the seeds with a little salt and oil, spread on a baking sheet and bake in a medium oven for around 15 minutes until golden-brown. Serve these seeds by sprinkling them over your squash soup as a garnish.
There are many different types of winter squash but in Italy there are four main types used in cooking -

Acorn squash: This small, round dark green winter squash is very versatile and can be baked, roasted, steamed or mashed.
Butternut squash: This popular, sweet-flavoured squash has a thin skin, making it one of the easier winter squashes to prepare. Use it to make tasty soups or cut it into chunks and roast it and use it in risotto or even sprinkle with dried chilli, roast and use a side dish.
Gem squash: When serving these small, round squashes allow one per person. A nice way to serve them is to cut them in half, fill the cavities with a risotto made of the flesh or scrape out the flesh after roasting and mix with sundried tomatoes, pinenuts, chilli, mozzarella and bake until tender.
Pumpkin: This large, orange-coloured winter squash is the classic Halloween pumpkin that kids  hollow out and carve. In Italy, they use the cooked flesh to make Raviolli and Tortellini, soups and even bread.

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