Everybody goes a little cuckoo-crazy this time of year.The days grow shorter, colder and more dreary, and the decreasing amount of sunlight has a negative effect upon our mental fitness. You either need a trip to Hawaii or some comfort food to keep your spirits up through our long winters. Sadly, tropical vacations may now be out of reach financially (how’s that RRSP doing?), but the cure for our Seasonal Affective Disorder state can be found within the skin of the plentiful, and pennywise, winter squash.
Don’t let that tough, seemingly impenetrable exterior stop you. People fear what lies beneath that hard shell, which is a shame because beneath its gruff exterior this perfect fall veggie is a gold mine of nutritionally dense complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. What’s more, it’s crazy delicious.
To conquer your squash phobia, you must first put down those out-of-season Mexican strawberries and pick up a gourd. Choosing a squash is easier than you think. For the most part, they’re immune to manhandling and can easily survive the short truck ride from the farm to our local markets and stores. Don’t worry about surface scratches or dirt; you won’t be eating the skin, so just make sure there are no gashes or soft bruises. Load up on a variety of squash now and if you store them in a cool dark spot, they’ll last all winter and probably most of next year.
Deciding which to choose is the least of your worries. From the gnarly skinned hubbard to the elegant delicata and the smooth, familiar pumpkin, gourds all have something special to offer. And don’t worry about what to do with them. There are many ways to cook a squash: puréed in soup, spiced in a tagine, cooked into risotto or baked in a pie.
This brings us back to the real root of our fears: people are most afraid of what they can’t see. To combat that, take our fall-vegetable Rorsquash test, a series of photographs of seemingly randomly squashed squash that are designed to trigger your innermost dining desires. Based upon what you see in these photos, you’ll be able to figure out your squash personality, and through that, unlock the secret to a veggie feast and a SAD-free fall.
Figure No. 1: You see the remains of an orange-fleshed acrobat that fell from a tightrope to its doom
You must be eating way too many nuts, because you are what you eat. To get back on track, you need to switch to toasted pumpkin seeds.
First, gut your squash by cutting it in half and scooping out the insides. Free the seeds from the gunky stuff and place them in a bowl. Pour in a little oil to coat, and add plenty of salt and some seasoning like paprika or cinnamon. Evenly distribute the seeds on a parchment-lined baking sheet and toast at 160 °C (325 °F) until they are crispy and delicious. Scrape them into a bowl to cool and pick up the phone; sharing the seeds can help you make some meaningful connections with well-adjusted humans who simply don’t see what you do in this photo.
Figure No. 2: You see roasted squash swimming in butter and salt
You over-complicate your life with meaningless pursuits when you should be trying to simplify things.
Take any winter squash and cut it in half or quarters. Scoop out the seeds and set them aside for roasting. In a deep baking dish, toss in the squash pieces and pour in a cup of water. Tightly cover the dish with foil and put it in a 175 °C (350 °F) oven. After 45 minutes, remove the foil and check for doneness. The squash is cooked when the flesh is tender and you can pull it easily away from the skin with a spoon. Serve hot, with loads of cold butter and plenty of salt.
Figure No. 3: You see a colourful squash salad
You are restless and can not easily find satisfaction with the ordinary. Clearly, you are tired of the same old cold-weather comfort food and long for brighter flavours.
Select a thin-skinned squash, such as delicata or small pumpkin, so you’ll be able to eat the skin when it is roasted. Slice the squash into rounds or wedges, remove the seeds and place the pieces on a baking sheet. Lubricate generously with oil and season with thyme or rosemary and plenty of salt.
Bake the squash at 175 °C (350 °F) until it is tender and has developed some golden-brown colour. Remove the squash from oven and let it cool slightly. Plate the warm chunks or wedges and top with wedges of fresh tomato, whole pitted black olives, grated Parmesan cheese, strips of prosciutto and a splash of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. Finish with a drizzle of dark-green pumpkin-seed oil for a surprising aromatic effect.
Figure No. 4: You see a bowl of hot, creamy Squash soup
Your life is in shambles, your house is a chaotic mess of disorganization and you crave order.
Use a butternut, buttercup or hubbard squash and roast it according to the instructions above. Scoop out all the flesh and place it in a blender. Cover with warm water and blend until velvety smooth. (Add more water if necessary.) Pour into a pot and slowly heat it through. Add salt to taste, some grated ginger and a knob of cold butter. Serve in a sparkling white bowl with a little dollop of sour cream and fresh cracked pepper. Savour the smooth simplicity.
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