Squash toasts

Roasted winter squash whipped into a full-bodied spread is great on toast.

In Wednesday’s Food section, we showcased eight varieties of winter squash grown in Lancaster County. Maybe by now you’ve done some of your own research or even a little squash shopping. In part two of this series, we are taking matters to the next level and into the kitchen. As I mentioned in part one, every fall I learn something new about winter squash, from varieties to cooking ideas. Its ability to pair with myriad herbs, spices, chile peppers, nuts and sweeteners explains why it figures into so many cuisines around the world. It can do sweet, savory, spicy or saucy and is willing and able to show up at any meal of the day. The recipes that follow illustrate the many directions that winter squash is willing to go. To get a jumpstart, you can roast a few at a time in advance and store in the refrigerator while you plan your own cooking adventure. The road to squash bliss begins here.

For tasting notes on 8 varieties, check out our guide to Winter Squash.


 

SQUASH TOASTS

Adapted from “PNW Veg” by Kim O’Donnel.

This full-bodied whipped puree is an excellent Plan B for avocado toast. The spiced nut dust adds both flavor and texture. Do try the mint garnish; it makes everything pop.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted hazelnuts or walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups roasted squash
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper or other medium-heat chile pepper
  • 1 whole clove garlic, peeled
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Rustic bread with a chewy crust, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
  • Handful of mint or parsley leaves, for garnish

Directions:

Make the spiced nut dust: Toast the nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat until slightly darkened and aromatic, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool. Toast the sesame seeds in the same manner until golden, 1 to 2 minutes, and transfer to a separate bowl.

Place the nuts in a mini-chopper or the small bowl of a food processor. Pulse to mostly pulverize, but you do want a little bit of texture. Add the sesame seeds, cumin, coriander, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and pinch of black pepper and pulse six or seven times until blended. The dust will keep for about 1 week in a lidded glass jar.

Puree the roasted squash. Add the oil, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, Aleppo pepper and garlic, and process until smooth. Taste and season with a few squeezes of lemon juice.

Prepare two toasts per serving. Crisp the bread in the toaster or a 300 F oven. Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons squash puree on each toast, followed by a few pinches of the nut dust. Garnish with mint and serve at room temperature.

Winter squash bharta

A twist on eggplant bharta, a popular Indian dish, this roasted squash version is packed with flavor and easy weeknight fare. 

SQUASH BHARTA

Adapted from “Rasika” by Ashok Bajaj and Vikram Sunderam.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

I served this at Thanksgiving last year and it has become part of our cold weather side-dish rotation. It’s layered in flavor, and you can make it as spicy (or not) as you wish. I really like it paired with brown rice. The recipe calls for deggi mirch or Kashmiri chile powder, which are available at Indian grocery stores. If you wind up short, try 1/4 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika and a pinch of ground cayenne instead.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 6 tablespoons neutral oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 cups finely chopped onions
  • 2 cups finely chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped green chile pepper of choice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground Kashmiri chile powder (or deggi mirch)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Chopped cilantro, for garnish

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Place the squash in a bowl and add 2 tablespoons of the oil, turning until well coated. Arrange in a single layer on the lined pan and roast until paring-knife tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and mash it with a potato masher. Do not worry if lumps remain.

In a heavy-bottomed pot or deep skillet, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook briefly (about 15 seconds), then add the onions, cooking until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and turmeric, cooking until the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the ginger, fresh chile pepper and chile powder, cooking for about 1 minute. Stir in the squash and salt, stirring frequently until the mixture seems dry, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how moist the squash is.

Finish with lemon juice and cilantro, if using.

Winter squash pancakes

Pumpkin pancakes are a great way to use up leftover roasted pumpkin. 

PUMPKIN PANCAKES

I have tinkered with a version of this recipe since the morning after Thanksgiving at least 12 years ago. The squash creates a more wholesome and fiber-forward result, which reduces chances of the inevitable sugar crash after polishing off a short stack of buttermilk pancakes. The recipe is extremely forgiving, so if you want to do away with wheat flour, try swapping in oat flour. If you don’t like nutmeg, use cinnamon. You get the idea.

Makes about 10 two-inch pancakes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (Plan B: equal amounts oat flour)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg or cardamom
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil plus more for cooking pancakes
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mashed roasted winter squash
  • 1/4 cup liquid (apple cider or milk of choice), if needed

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 250 F.

Stir together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, whisk the oil and sugar until well blended and somewhat creamy. Add the egg, plus the vanilla extract and whisk until the mixture is thick and somewhat viscous. Whisk in the squash until blended.w

Add the flour mixture, stirring with a rubber spatula until just blended. Batter may be thick; if so, gradually add the liquid until it thins out a bit.

Heat skillet or griddle over medium heat and brush the surface with oil (or apply a thin coating of spray).

To drop the batter into the pan, you can use a 1/8 measuring cup or a liquid measuring cup with a spout. You’re looking for circles 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until first side is golden brown. Turn and cook on second side for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from pan and place pancakes on a plate or sheet pan in the warm oven while you continue to cook.

Serve with any or all of the following options: good quality maple syrup, sliced ripe pears, applesauce, apple butter, chopped pecans or walnuts.

Keeps in the refrigerator for a few days and reheats well.

AD HOC WINTER SQUASH PUREE

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Use this recipe as a guideline and create your own version based on what you have on hand. This is very forgiving, so don’t fret if you have slightly more or less than 3 cups of roasted squash. You can even mix and match varieties if you have roasted a bunch in advance.

Note: If you have no roasted squash at the ready, no worries. You need 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of squash to work with. Instead of roasting, peel, chop and proceed to soup pot.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons neutral oil or olive oil
  • 1 medium onion or large leek, roughly chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons Madras curry powder or 1 teaspoon ground coriander and 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper or cayenne or 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3 cups roasted squash
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
  • 4 cups water or broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 fresh lemon

Directions:

In a large saucepan or heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the spices and cook until pasty, about 1 minute. Add the squash, garlic and water, which should just cover the vegetables. Add the honey. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the garlic is soft, about 25 minutes.

Carefully puree the soup (it will be hot!) with an immersion blender, stand blender or food processor, until smooth and well blended. Return soup to the heat, taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Squeeze the lemon half all over and serve hot.