Cool weather means its time for pumpkins and winter squash. Throughout New England they are piled high at supermarkets, roadside stands and pick-your-own farms. They come in different shapes from long and lean to short and plump. There are big ones and little ones. Some are gnarly with bumps and warts. They come in a beautiful array of colors from green and yellow to almost red, soft orange and pale, creamy white. Some are reserved strictly for decorating while others make wonderful additions to any fall feast.
In spite of their versatility, they have been the butt of jokes and maligned for decades. Maybe centuries. I’m sure I sputtered and stammered and called my sister a pumpkin-head at least once when I was little. Yes, I certainly had a way with words! Years later in France, I learned I should not mistake it for an endearment if someone muttered “Quelle courge!” (translation: What a squash!). It was just another impatient local frustrated by my slow-witted attempt to negotiate life in a foreign country.
And who can forget Peter? I’m not sure what eating pumpkin had to do with it, but poor Peter couldn’t seem to keep a hold of his wife or maybe it was his house. I think he must have been caught in an early credit and mortgage crisis because they ended up living in a pumpkin shell. Cinderella had a similar problem. On her pitiful maid’s salary, she couldn’t make her carriage payments and was forced to borrow a pumpkin to get to the prom.
But the plucky pumpkin and brave squash have managed to raise above all this distain and transcend the name calling. No longer the poor dolts of the plant kingdom, they have become, well, heroes. They have joined the ranks of the super-foods. Every time you turn around another doctor is espousing their virtues. With or without bright orange tights and billowing capes, both pumpkin and squash are packed with an abundance of fiber, disease fighting nutrients and antioxidants.
And of course they are delicious. I admit for many years I was not a fan of these wonder-fruits. Yes, like the tomato, pumpkins and squash are not a vegetable but a fruit. Anyway, I always dreaded the fall when fresh green beans and corn disappeared and winter squash took their place in the market. Pumpkins were mostly for decorating and Thanksgiving pie but a whole host of winter squashes from acorn to butternut to hubbard and turban ended up on our dinner plates.
Sure the pumpkin pies were okay, but squash was another story. It was all in the preparation. Sometimes they were boiled and then mashed into a soggy and bland puree. On other occasions they were doused in sugar and baked; the result was much too sticky sweet.
Times have changed. Today we find squashes and pumpkins in all sorts of dishes. We use them to create savory appetizers and soups. We add them to risottos and pasta for a delicious main course. My favorite way to prepare pumpkins and squash is to roast them. And hold the sugar. A drizzle of olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, maybe a sprinkle of rosemary or sage and some salt and pepper is all you need. Want something a little more exotic? Add some Moroccan spices, Indian curry or a few hot Caribbean chilies.
So the next time you don’t know what to make for dinner; don’t be a courge! Cook up a big pot of roasted butternut squash soup, pumpkin risotto or a spicy stew. Even without bright orange tights, you’ll be a hero with your family and friends. Enjoy a warm and wonderful fall feast!
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Roasting the vegetables gives this soup a rich, deep flavor. I make it throughout the fall and winter. Enjoy!
Serves 8 to 12
2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
1 large potato, about 8 ounces, cut into chunks
3 carrots, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
2 medium onions, cut into chunks
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1-2 bay leaves
8 cups chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried and crumbled
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup half and half (optional)
Fresh chopped chives, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the vegetables, herbs, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper in a large roasting pan– toss to coat. Roast for 45 minutes.
Add the white wine to the pan. Return to the oven and cook for 15 minutes more.
Let the vegetables cool for about 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Working in batches, puree the squash mixture with a little chicken stock in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Put the squash puree into a large soup pot. Add the remaining chicken stock. Reheat slowly on the stove top and simmer on low for 15 minutes. Add the half and half, reheat until piping hot. Garnish with chives and serve immediately.
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Susan Nye lives in New Hampshire. She is a freelance writer and cook. To learn more about her catering services and cooking classes or to find more recipes visit her web site at www.susannye.com.© Susan W. Nye, 2008