November 1, 2006

Cooking Cucurbita

Now that your jack-o-lantern has enjoyed its moment of glory on the front steps, it’s time to turn your attention to the pumpkin’s smaller—and far more edible—relatives.

The botanical family name Cucurbitaceae covers everything from cucumbers and melons to gourds, pumpkins, and squash. If you’ve found yourself standing in the supermarket puzzling over a display of thick-skinned vegetables in various shades of orange, yellow, and green, the Earthbound Farm’s website has a handy squash identification chart you can consult before your next shopping trip. Once you can tell your acorns from your delicatas, you’re ready to start exploring some superb recipes, most of them high in vitamin A and potassium and low in calories.

I have to confess that I am not a fan of the spaghetti squash; it may look like spaghetti, but the texture (crunchy) and the flavory (watery) don’t make it a good substitute for pasta. My favorite squashes are the traditional acorns and butternuts. There is simply not a richer, smoother vegetable for making a pureed soup than the butternut. Here’s a basic recipe from All Recipes to get you started; check some cookbooks and you’ll find variations with savory herbs and others with spices such as ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. For a richer soup, garnish with sour cream or crème fraiche.

The dark green acorn squash is fabulous split, seeded, heaped with a rich sausage-and-vegetable stuffing and roasted for an hour (a very easy-to-make dinner). Just about any stuffing will work, but the Food Reference Web site has a whole page of ideas to get you started.

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