Pumpkins and squash are believed to have originated in the ancient Americas. These early pumpkins were not the traditional round orange upright Jack-O-Lantern shape, we think of today, when you hear the word pumpkin. They were a crooked neck variety which stored well. Archeologists have determined that variations of squash and pumpkins were cultivated along river and creek banks along with sunflowers and beans. Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. They also roasted long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and ate them. The origin of pumpkin pie occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in hot ashes. Once pumpkins were imported from the Americas to Europe during the 1500s, they were grown everywhere and were cheap, so even the poor were able to enjoy them.
Northern Italy has a long tradition of cooking with pumpkin. The home of pumpkin tortelli is disputed between Mantua and Ferrara. In fact, their origins date back to the times of the Este court in Ferrara which was famous for the refinement of its cuisine and its master chef, Giovan Battista Rossetti, mentioned it in his recipe book in 1584. But the Gonzaga family, ruling in Mantua at the same time, also claimed the recipe as their own. Pumpkin tortelli are a speciality pasta in the provinces of Mantua and Cremona (in Lombardy), Piacenza, Parma, Reggio, Modena, and Ferrara (in the Emilia region). In Ferrara they are called Cappellacci, from the shape of the straw hats typically worn by country folk. Elsewhere, the name tortelli derives from the way the pasta is folded.
Northern Italian and Sicilian cuisines feature a number of pumpkin dishes. Here are a few.
Tortelli Mantovani di Zucca – fresh pasta pillows filled with roasted pumpkin puree spiked with diced Mostarda di Cremona (candied fruits in mustard seed oil), crushed amaretti and a touch of nutmeg (or mace or cinnamon) and dressed with a sage and butter sauce.
Risotto di Zucca is made by gently sautéing tiny cubes of pumpkin with onions before adding the rice.
Friulian Zucca al forno is a slow-roasted whole pumpkin filled with mascarpone, Emmenthal and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses, sautéed onions, wild mushrooms and nutmeg. The natural sugars of the pumpkin caramelize and meld with the cheeses as it cooks.
There are also numerous regional Italian marinated fried pumpkin dishes.
Zucca alla Veneta are lightly floured pumpkin slices that are sautéed in olive oil and then arranged in layers, with torn basil leaves (and sometimes raisins) scattered over each layer. A dressing made by boiling white wine vinegar with a clove of garlic, salt and pepper is poured over the layered pumpkin slices and left to marinate, covered, overnight.
Sicilian Zucca Agrodolce (pan-fried pumpkin slices marinated in a sweet and sour sauce). The dish is made by frying 6 – 7 cloves of garlic (thinly sliced) in olive oil until golden. Sugar is then added to the pan and cooked to a golden caramel. White wine vinegar is added and the sauce is boiled until it becomes syrupy. Roughly chopped mentuccia leaves are scattered over the fried pumpkin before pouring the hot syrup over. It is left overnight and eaten the following day at room temperature. [Note: mentuccia is wild Italian mint).
- 16 ounces penne rigate (ridged), or other short pasta
- Coarse salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 medium yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin puree
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 cup half-and-half
- 1 cup grated Parmesan, divided
- pinch nutmeg and black pepper to the taste
- 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
- Sage leaves for garnish
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 2 cups pasta water; drain pasta and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium. Add onions and cook until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes.
Carefully add pumpkin puree, garlic, half-and-half, ½ cup Parmesan, red-pepper flakes, nutmeg, black pepper and 1 cup reserved pasta water to the skillet. Stir sauce until heated through, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Add cooked pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. If sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water. Season generously with salt. Serve pasta sprinkled with remaining cheese.
Creamy Pumpkin Brown Rice
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups uncooked brown basmati rice
- 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin purée
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 bay leaves
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 cup chopped, toasted pecans, optional
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, 7 to 8 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat with oil. Toast rice, stirring often, until fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes more. Meanwhile, whisk together pumpkin purée and broth in a large bowl.
Stir broth mixture and bay leaves into pot, season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally to keep rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot, until liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked through and creamy, about 45 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Stir in pecans, if using, and Paremsan cheese. Transfer to a bowl and serve immediately.
Pumpkin Chard Lasagna
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 2 pounds of Swiss chard, stems removed, leaves washed well and chopped
- 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried sage
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 3 cups canned pumpkin puree
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
- 4 cups fresh ricotta cheese (32 ounces)
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- ½ cup milk
- 9 no-boil lasagna noodles
- 1 tablespoon butter
Heat the oil over low heat in a large skillet. Add the onions and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally. Increase the heat to high and add the chard, one teaspoon of the salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of the sage and 1/4 teaspoon of the nutmeg. Cook until the chard is wilted and no liquid remains in the pan. This should take eight to ten minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a medium sized bowl, mix together two cups of the pumpkin, ricotta cheese, eggs, 1/2 cups of the Parmesan cheese and the remaining salt, pepper, sage and nutmeg. Set aside.
Pour the milk into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Place one third of the noodles on top of the milk. Spread half of the pumpkin mixture on the noodles. Then layer half of the Swiss chard on the pumpkin. Top with another three noodles, pumpkin mixture and Swiss chard. Finish with remaining noodles.
Combine the remaining pumpkin, cayenne and the cream. Spread this over the top of the lasagna, being careful to do so evenly. Sprinkle with the remaining cup of Parmesan cheese and dot with butter.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until golden for 15-20 minutes.
Mini Pumpkin Muffins
- 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 large egg
- 1 1/4 cups canned pumpkin puree
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 24 mini muffin pan with paper liners and spray them with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking soda, pumpkin spice and salt with a wire whisk. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix oil, egg, pumpkin puree and vanilla. Beat at medium speed until thick. Scrape down sides of the bowl.
Add the flour mixture, then blend at low speed until just combined. Do not overmix.
Pour batter into prepared muffin cups and bake on the center rack for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let the muffins cool at least 20 minutes before eating.
- 2 cups finely ground hazelnuts
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur, divided (Frangelico)
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
- 3/4 cups light brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
- 1/2 cup evaporated milk
- 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
To make crust: mix hazelnuts, sugar, 1 tablespoon of hazelnut liqueur and butter until combined. Press into a 9 to 10-inch springform pan making sure to press mixture on the bottom and up the sides, as well. Set aside.
For filling: in a large bowl mix in order cream cheese, brown sugar, eggs (one at a time) and pumpkin puree.
In a small cup stir remaining 2 tablespoons of hazelnut liqueur, pumpkin pie spice and salt into the evaporated milk. Pour the mixture into the pumpkin mixture and blend until combined.
Pour into crust and bake for 35 minutes or until the center is set. Allow to cool to room temperature and chill in the refigerator before serving.
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Just a few decades ago Halloween in Italy was merely the name of an American holiday. Little by little Halloween’s popularity has grown, probably due to the influence of American movies and American fast food chains. It has become a real celebrated holiday, even though it doesn’t have any real connection to Italy. All Saints Day (November 1st) is celebrated there as a national holiday and November 2nd, a day dedicated to the remembrance of the dead, is a holy day during which people visit cemeteries and bring flowers and candles to remember relatives and friends who have passed away.
In some parts of Italy children find presents brought during the night by the dead. The general practice of leaving food out for spirits on Hallows’ Eve seems to have spawned the tradition of distributing candy or other food. For many Italians, the origin of Halloween matters less than the chance to celebrate another festa (party). Much like in America, children in Italy enjoy dressing up and walking from store to store through town asking, “Dolcetto o scherzetto?” (Trick or treat?)
In Italy, Halloween involves costume parties for young adults and shops are beginning to sell decorations and even a variety of Halloween costumes (although the selection is still mostly limited to bats, ghosts or witches). While many of Italy’s Halloween traditions are similar to America, there are some that are uniquely Italian. To experience a distinctly Italian Halloween, visit the small hill town of Corinaldo in the Marche region for La Notte delle Streghe – The Night of the Witches.
Throughout Italy you will often see carved pumpkins, children in costumes running through the piazza and signs for Halloween parties at local restaurants or clubs. Some areas offer Halloween tours of medieval towers, castles and catacombs that are lined with mummies and bones. Celebrations are now widespread enough that it’s safe to say Halloween has been adopted into the Italian culture. The concern of traditionalists is that it has replaced the more traditional religious practices.
The tradition of the pumpkin is not exclusively Anglo-Saxon, in fact, it can also be found in the Italian tradition. In Veneto, for example, pumpkins are emptied, painted and a candle symbolizing resurrection is placed inside them. In Friuli, especially in the area near Pordenone, the pumpkins, prepared in this way, are put along the roads to light the path for the dead. In Puglia every family adorns their own pumpkin and puts it on display in the window of their house. In Lombardia pumpkins are filled with wine, so that the dead can drink it during the night between the 31st October and the 1st of November, before returning to the kingdom of “afterlife”.
The traditions also include typical dishes prepared during this time and handed down from generation to generation. In Romagna, a region well known for its cuisine, the “piada dei morti”, a round flatbread filled with nuts, almonds, raisins and the red wine of Romagna, Sangiovese, is prepared. Another sweet prepared during this time is the “fava dei morti”, a little biscuit made of almonds. In Sicily the typical dishes for this time of year are the “pupi ‘i zuccuru”, a sweet bread shaped like little dolls, and the “dead bones” biscuits having the shape of bones that are particularly hard to bite.
Favorite Halloween Foods In Italy
- 4 lb pumpkin
- 2 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
- 4 basil leaves
- 1 stalk celery
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 1 clove of garlic, left whole
- Vegetable broth
- 1 oz butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Cut off the top cap of the pumpkin, remove all the seeds and filaments keeping the pumpkin whole. You will form a sort of soup tureen complete with its lid.
Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Add chopped celery, parsley, basil and thyme. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
Fill the pumpkin 3/4th of the way up with vegetable broth, the sautéed vegetables, peeled garlic and the grated cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and cover the pumpkin with its top and place on a baking sheet.
Bake at 450° F for two hours. Remove the pumpkin from the oven, remove the top and let cool. Remove the garlic and, with a serving spoon scrape the pumpkin off the sides and bottom, mixing it slowly into the soup, to make a puree.
Should the puree be too thick, add some more hot stock to it. Serve in soup bowls with a couple of drops of balsamic vinegar and large pieces of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.
Veal and Pumpkin Rolls
You can use turkey or chicken scaloppine in place of the veal.
- 16 veal scaloppine, about 1.5 oz each, pounded thin
- 1 lb pumpkin, peeled and sliced
- 1 lb chicory
- 1 ¼ oz almonds, sliced
- ½ an onion
- All-purpose flour
- 1 ½ oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- White wine to taste
- Extra virgin olive oil to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
Gently saute the onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until lightly golden and then add the pumpkin slices.
Salt and pepper the pumpkin and cook over low heat for 20 minutes, covered. Mash the pumpkin into a puree and add the grated Parmesan. Set aside.
Place the pounded slices of veal on a work surface and spread each one with pumpkin puree. Roll them up tightly and roll in flour.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet and brown veal rolls, about 6 minutes. You may need more butter.
Add enough wine to cover the bottom of the pan and allow it to evaporate. Cover the pan and cook the veal rolls for 6-8 minutes more.
Finely chop the chicory and add it to a skillet containing 1 tablespoon of olive oil; add the almonds and salt and pepper. Cook until the chicory wilts.
Serve the veal rolls over the chicory mixture.
Bonz of the Dead
- 1/2 cup hazelnuts
- 3/4 teaspoon anise seeds
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Pinch ground cloves
- Pinch kosher salt
- Powdered sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F and toast the hazelnuts on a sheet pan until lightly golden-brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool
Lightly toast the anise seeds either in the oven or on the stove in a saute pan over medium heat constantly shaking the pan, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the seeds from the pan, allow to cool, and set aside.
Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor pulsing until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Pour into a bowl and set aside. Grind the anise seeds in a small spice grinder until the seeds are half their size and place in the bowl with the nuts.
In the bowl of a electric stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the sugar, butter and lemon zest until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg whites and vanilla and mix on low speed until incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes.
In the bowl with the ground hazelnuts and anise, add the flour, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves and salt and mix with your hands until combined. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture in the mixer on low speed until a smooth ball of dough forms, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, flatten slightly and wrap the dough in plastic wrap. Chill for 30 minutes.
Divide the cold dough into 8 even pieces. Roll each piece into a rope approximately 18-inches long by about 1/2-inch thick. Cut the ropes into 5 cookies. For super long bonz, roll each log 8-inches long.
Place the bonz on parchment lined baking sheets and allow to sit uncovered in a dry place, 1 to 2 hours or up to overnight. This helps them become super dry and ready for baking.
Place the baking sheets in a preheated 350 degree F oven and bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
Pan Dei Morti
or Bread of the Dead
Said to be based on an ancient Etruscan recipe, this particular recipe is a specialty of the Lombardia region of Italy. These cookies are best eaten the day they are baked, although they keep well for several days. They are dense, chewy, moist cookies with the crackle of the ground cookies and the crunch of the pine nuts to remind us of dead men’s bones.
- 14 oz (400 g) dry, sweet cookies, such as crunchy ladyfingers
- 3 ½ oz (100 g) dry amaretti cookies
- 4 ¼ oz (120 g) blanched whole almonds
- 4 ¼ oz (120 g) dried figs
- 2 cups (250 g) flour
- 1 ½ cups (300 g) sugar
- ½ cup (50 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- pinch salt
- 4 ¼ oz (125 g) whole pine nuts
- 6 large egg whites
- 3/8 cup (100 ml) Vin Santo or other sweet dessert wine
- powdered sugar for dusting
In a processor finely grind the cookies and amaretti and place in a very large mixing bowl. Finely grind both the almonds and the figs and add to the cookie crumbs in the bowl.
(The damp figs may clump together, just rub the clumps into the dry ingredients to break it up.)
Add the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and whole pine nuts to the ground ingredients and toss until completely blended.
Pour the egg whites and the vin santo or dessert wine over the dry ingredients and blend until all of the dry ingredients are moistened.
Scrape out onto a floured work surface and knead quickly until it you have a smooth, well-blended ball of cookie dough.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line baking sheets with non-stick parchment paper.
Slice the ball of dough in half and then each half into about a dozen even pieces, each weighing about 3-3 ½ oz (90-100 g).
Form each piece into an oblong shape – long and flat, approximately 4 ½ – 5 ½ inches (12-14 cm) long and approximately 2 ½ inches (6 cm) wide, (wider in the middle and narrowing to a point at each end).
Place the cookies on the baking sheet leaving a little space between each. Bake for 35-30 minutes until slightly puffed, a dull brown color and set to the touch. Lift one up carefully and check that the bottom side looks cooked. Do not overbake or the cookies will be too hard.
Remove the cookies to cooling racks and allow the cookies to cool completely. Once cooled, sift powdered sugar generously to cover the cookies.
Fave dei Morti
Fave dei Morti, beans of the dead, are little bean-shaped cakes that Italians eat on Il Giorno dei Morti (All Souls’ Day) on November 2. These small cakes are traditionally eaten throughout Italy on the day that everyone decorates the graves with flowers and prays for departed souls.
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup finely ground almonds (unblanched)
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
Combine sugar, butter and ground almonds. Beat egg and add to the butter ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Add flour and lemon rind.
Work dough until smooth and form into a roll about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate 2-3 hours.
Cut off bits of dough and mold into kidney-shaped pieces about as big as large lima beans.
Bake on greased cookie sheets in a moderate oven (350° F.) about 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes before removing from the pan with spatula to a cooling rack.
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Where would Italian cuisine be without America? Strange as it might sound, just imagine how astonishingly different Italian food would be without tomatoes to make pasta sauces or corn for creamy polenta. Think of the gastronomic delights we would be missing! Take zucchini, a type of squash. They’ve become so intertwined with Italian cooking and culture, that Americans even call them by their Italian name –– although they originated on this side of the globe. In fact, just like tomatoes and corn, squash of all shapes and sizes were yet another culinary gift from the new world. Part of the large cucurbitaceae family –– which includes everything from pumpkins and winter squash to zucchini, melons, and cucumbers –– are said to have originated in the South American Andes and were grown in several parts of the American continent well before Columbus ever set foot on it. So, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that here in the U.S. the fall season is associated with pumpkins and winter squash. Yet, most of us have a rather superficial acquaintance with them, often limited to the Halloween Jack-o-Lantern, a few pretty ornamentals, lots of pumpkin pie, and the occasional squash soup. But try walking through a farmers market these days, and you’ll be hit by an astounding assortment of squash of all colors and forms, from traditional orange pumpkins to smaller delicata and butternut squash to big hubbards. What other food can be mashed to make comforting soups and delicate purées, stuffed into ravioli, used in a flavorful risotto or hollowed out to look like a scary skull lit from within by a candle?
Although called “winter” squash, these fruits really start appearing in late summer and keep growing through December –– some kinds grow even further into the winter. Unlike summer squash, such as zucchini or yellow squash, which are harvested and eaten in the immature stages when the rind is still soft, winter squash are harvested when the fruit is fully mature and the rind is hard. Yes, I said fruit. All squash are botanically fruits. But can be used as a fruit or a vegetable. If you’re a squash newcomer whose experience is confined to pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream, start out with a butternut or a delicata squash and you won’t be disappointed. Butternut squash are light beige with a peanut-like shape, and they taste somewhat like sweet potatoes. Delicata squash are smaller and narrower, their rind is usually yellow with a few green streaks and the flavor is delicate.
Other culinary favorites include acorn squash, a round globe, with even groves around the entire squash. They are mostly dark green, with occasional splotches of orange and yellow, that make a hearty soup; hubbard, a large, bumpy and thick-skinned squash with a fairly sweet flavor; kabocha, a drier, flakier type with a round shape and a flattened top, green in color with occasional white stripes; and spaghetti squash, which has nothing to do with the pasta, but is so called because its flesh is stringy and turns into strands that resemble spaghetti when cooked. Native Americans once believed squash was so nutritious that they buried it along with the dead to provide them nourishment on their final journey. Squash were originally grown for the seeds because they were believed to increase fertility; however, with the evolution of squash, plants produced fruit that had a thicker skin, fewer seeds and less waste.
The hard-shelled squash species are uniquely American. The earliest natives revered them, and gave them the honor of being one of the “Three Sisters”. Beans and corn completed the trio, and without those foods for sustenance, many ancient peoples would have ceased to exist. The Three Sisters were vital to many civilizations. The corn and the beans made a complete protein, the squash supplied beta carotene, Omega 3 and Potassium. Whole communities could survive on these alone, if game and other foods were scarce. They were also one of the first companion plantings, each contributing to the growth and well-being of the others. The corn supplied support for the beans to climb on, and shade for the squash plants during the heat of the day. The squash plants large leaves shaded the ground, prevented weeds, and deterred hungry wildlife that didn’t like to walk through the fuzzy vines. The beans fixed nitrogen in the soil to feed the corn and the squash. The European conquerors carried the squash back across the Atlantic, and many varieties were created around the Mediterranean Basin. Winter squash never caught on in the more northern parts of Europe though, as the climate was too cool, and the season did not last long enough to properly grow them. France, Spain and Italy are European countries which have embraced the squash, and raised its cultivation to an art form with many unique varieties springing from that area. Wonderful varieties have been developed in Australia also, as the climate there is quite hospitable to raising winter squash. Although types of gourds were found in tombs of Egypt, the butternut squash and its family members including the pumpkin and the calabaza are new world, native Americans. The butternut is the new kid on the block having made its appearance in 1944. Most people ask what the difference is between a winter squash and a pumpkin. A pumpkin is just another hard-shelled winter squash. What makes winter squash different from a summer squash? It’s simply the time of year in which they are eaten. The early American settlers gave them those designations. Summer squash are soft-skinned vegetables which grew quickly, and were eaten soon after harvest. Winter squash grew the thick, hard rinds that made them suitable for storing through the long winters when fresh vegetables were a precious commodity.
Winter squash comes in many shapes, sizes, textures and flavors. Chances are, there will be one variety out there that will suit your family. Here are a few popular ones. The ‘Waltham Butternut’ is a smooth-skinned squash with a meaty texture. It is prolific and easy to grow. It keeps well in a cool, dark storage area, and it’s small enough that 1 squash will feed an average family. The ‘Blue Hubbard‘ is a huge, heavy squash that requires more than just a paring knife to open it. The thick rind needs a small hatchet or saw to cut it open, but it will keep well into spring with nothing much more than a dry, cool spot. Not for the ‘Squash Novice’ as it occasionally will reach over 30 pounds, and 1 squash feeds a small army. The flesh is smooth and not stringy, somewhat on the dry side, but quite pleasing. ‘Carnival’ is a variety of acorn squash found in many supermarkets, and is a great selection for a two person meal. Use the squash as the main meal instead of meat, stuffing the halves with a seasoned rice mixture. Each person being served their own personal, edible bowl. For a simple side dish, simply drizzle with butter and brown sugar before baking. BUYING The rind should be firm and unbroken with a uniform matte coloring. Squash should feel heavy for their size (indicating a high moisture content – squash gradually lose water after harvesting). Bigger squash generally have a more highly developed flavor. STORING Squash are amongst the longest keeping vegetables. In a cool (not refrigerator-cold), dry, well-ventilated place they can keep for three months or more. At room temperature, or in the refrigerator, they will deteriorate more quickly, but should be fine for at least a couple of weeks. PREPARATION The hard rind, dense flesh and awkward shape mean that squash require careful cutting. Use a large knife or cleaver to make a shallow cut down the length of the squash (curves permitting). Place the blade in the cut and knock the back of the blade (using your hand, a wooden mallet or rolling pin) until the squash is cut in half lengthways. Scoop out the seeds and any fibrous-strings . If you require chunks of squash, cut a small piece off each end, enabling you to stand it vertically and trim off the rind before slicing and dicing. Squash should be cooked until tender. Baking a halved squash is an excellent way of preserving and intensifying its flavors. Cubes can also be added to casseroles. Boiling is quicker than baking but will result in some sugars being absorbed into the water and so is best used for dishes (such as soups) where the flavored water forms part of the dish rather than being discarded. Save the Seeds! The seeds of winter squash are delicious when toasted. Rinse them well and pat dry. Toss them lightly in oil and a little salt, spread them on a sheet pan, and bake at 250 degrees for about 1 hour. If you’d like to brown the seeds slightly, turn on the broiler for the last 4-5 minutes of baking. Let cool and store in a sealable bag or jar with a lid. Not only do they taste great, they’re nutritious and good for you!
Winter Squash Polenta
Makes about 4 cups ROAST SQUASH
- 3 pounds winter squash
- Olive oil
- Salt & pepper
Set oven to 400 degrees F. Carefully cut the squash in half either lengthwise or crosswise. Scoop out the seeds and rub olive oil on the flesh, season with salt and pepper, then place cut-side down on a baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast until a knife easily inserts into the thickest part of the flesh, for about an hour. Let cool a bit. Scoop out the flesh and mash with a potato masher or a fork. POLENTA
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup coarse stone-ground cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or Smart Balance Blend
- 8 ounces grated fresh Parmesan, divided
- Salt & pepper
Bring the water to a boil in a medium nonstick saucepan on medium heat. Stir in the salt. Slowly stir in the cornmeal with a whisk. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and set timer for 5 minutes. When timer goes off, check to see if it’s cooking at a slow simmer, adjust heat accordingly and whisk gently for a minute. Repeat every 5 minutes, adjusting temperature and whisking. When it thickens, uncover and stir for 2 – 3 minutes. Stir in the butter and three quarters of the Parmesan and stir until melted. Stir in the cooked squash and combine well. Taste and adjust seasonings. BAKING Transfer to a greased baking dish. [If you’re cooking ahead, stop here and refrigerate. Return to room temperature.] Top with reserved Parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 60 minutes. Top with oven roasted vegetables or Italian tomato meat sauce.
Butternut Squash Risotto
- 4 cups homemade or low-salt chicken broth; more as needed
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 ounces pancetta, diced
- 10 large fresh sage leaves
- 2 medium shallots, minced (about 1/4 cup)
- 2 cups 1/4-inch-diced peeled butternut squash
- 1-1/2 cups Arborio or other risotto rice
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Directions: Combine the chicken broth and wine in a small saucepan and set over medium heat. In a medium (3-qt.) saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the sage leaves and cook, turning once, until they’ve turned dark green in most places, about 1 minute total. Don’t brown. With a fork, transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Put the pancetta in the saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned, 5 to 7 minutes and transfer to the plate with the sage. Add the shallots to the saucepan and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until softened, about 1 minute. Add the squash and rice and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Ladle in enough of the hot broth mixture to just cover the rice. Cook, stirring frequently, until the broth is mostly absorbed. Add another ladle of broth and continue cooking, stirring, and adding more ladles of broth as the previous additions are absorbed, until the rice is tender with just a slight bite, about 25 minutes. As the risotto cooks, adjust the heat so that it bubbles gently. The broth mixture needn’t be boiling; it should just be hot. If you use all the broth and wine before the rice gets tender, use more broth but not more wine. Set aside 4-6 sage leaves as a garnish (1 leaf per serving). Crumble the pancetta and the remaining sage leaves into the risotto. Stir in the Parmigiano. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish each serving with a sage leaf. Serves six as a primo (first) course, or four as a second course.
Spaghetti Squash Casserole
- 1 spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise and seeds removed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 cup (8 ounces) skim ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 tablespoons seasoned dry bread crumbs
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat a 13″ x 9″ baking dish and a baking sheet with nonstick spray. Place the squash, cut side down, on the sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a sharp knife. With a fork, scrape the squash strands into a large bowl.
Meanwhile, warm the oil in a medium skillet set over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and basil. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the mixture is dry. To the bowl with the squash, add the ricotta cheese, mozzarella, parsley, salt, and the onion mixture. Stir to mix. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly, heated through and the top is brown.
Winter Squash Gratin
- 2 medium butternut squash (or any winter squash of choice) (1 1/2 pounds each)
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 medium leek, white part only, coarsely chopped (1/2 cup)
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- One 12-ounce can evaporated skim milk
- 1/2 teaspoon honey
- 2 ounces of a baguette (thinly cut into 8 small slices) or 2 slices peasant bread (cut into 4 equal pieces), toasted
- 4 ounces Italian Fontina cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon grated Parmesan cheese
- 8 basil leaves, shredded
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Halve the squash lengthwise and remove the seeds. Place the squash, cut side up, in a baking pan. Season with 1/2 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper and cover tightly with foil. Bake for about 1 hour, until the squash are tender but not mushy. Let cool slightly. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the leek, olive oil and 2 teaspoons of water. Cover and cook over moderately low heat until the leek is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Uncover and stir in the wine. Increase the heat to high and boil until the liquid is reduced to approximately 3 tablespoons, about 3 minutes. Stir in the broth, milk, honey and remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Remove from the heat. Using a big spoon, scoop the flesh from the squash in large pieces. Place in a medium bowl. To assemble the gratin, preheat the oven to 400°F. Bring the leek mixture to a boil. Spoon half of the squash into a 6- to 8-cup casserole. Ladle half of the leek mixture over the top and cover with half of the toast and half of the Fontina. Repeat the layers with the remaining squash, leek mixture, toast and Fontina. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top. Bake the gratin for 30 minutes, or until the top is browned and bubbly. Garnish with the basil and serve. MAKE AHEAD: The recipe can be prepared through Step Three up to 3 hours ahead. Return to room temperature before baking.
Baked Winter Squash With Italian Sausage Stuffing
Servings: 8 Ingredients
- 4 large acorn squash or squash of choice, about 1 pound each, cut in half, seeds removed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 pound Italian sausage ( turkey, pork, chicken or vegetarian), casings removed and diced ( 1/4-inch)
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped,
- 3/4 cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
- 2 plum tomatoes, diced
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 4 cups Italian bread cubes
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1/4 pound shredded Mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried sage
- 1/4 cup egg substitute or 1 egg
Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Then lightly season the cut sides of squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Place the halved squash in a baking dish, flesh side down, and add 1/2 cup water to the pan. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake until tender, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and cool completely. In a large skillet brown the sausage over medium-high heat, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the sausage from the pan and drain on paper towels. Wipe out the pan with paper towels. Heat the remaining olive oil in the pan, and add the onion and bell pepper, sauté until soft, about three minutes. Add the garlic, tomato and cook an additional minute. Remove the pan from the heat. In a large mixing bowl, mix the sausage with the vegetables, bread cubes, chicken stock, the mozzarella cheese, parsley and dried sage. Add the egg and stir well to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and mix well. Divide the stuffing mixture between the baked squash halves, and top with the Parmesan cheese. Place the filled squash on a baking sheet and place in the preheated oven. Bake until the squash are heated through and the cheese melts, about 25 minutes.
- Preparing and Storing Winter Squash (clarksvilleonline.com)
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- Winter Squash Soup – a taste of fall (sarahstwohands.wordpress.com)
- 25 Winning Ways to Enjoy Winter Squash (wisebread.com)
- Selecting, Storing and Enjoying Autumn Favorites: Apples and Winter Squash (couponshoebox.com)