Grocery store bins and farmers' markets are brimming with winter squash. It's hard not to notice these versatile vegetables.
They're dressed in an array of oranges and reds, light and dark greens, even pale cream speckled with green.
They have smooth, rough or warty skins and odd names like kabocha and calabaza. Some, like turban and acorn, are named for their shapes. The long, yellow strands of spaghetti squash make a great stand-in for pasta. Bell-shaped butternut, hailed for its brilliant orange flesh, is one of the best loved.
Chefs tuck these beauties into enchiladas, puree them for soup, stuff them in ravioli and cube them for salads.
"We do a roasted butternut squash chili," says Maren Jackson, co-owner of Seva vegetarian restaurant in Ann Arbor. The chili replaces one of the weekly soups on the fall menu.
Jackson says squash not only tastes great but is full of good vitamins and nutritional elements like fiber and beta carotene. Plus, it's low in fat.
Jackson developed one of Seva's best-selling entrees, the Enchiladas Calabaza, named for the round, pumpkinlike squash.
At vegetarian Inn Season Cafe in Royal Oak, Mich., chef Thomas Lasher uses delicata, kabocha, Hubbard and butternut squash in many dishes. "We will put chunks of butternut in grain salads, stuff acorn or delicata because they have the form for it and use buttercup squash in soups," Lasher says.
Many squash varieties can be intimidating with their large shapes and thick skins, but Lasher says people shouldn't be afraid. "You just have to cut it up and roast it," he says. "It definitely brings the sweetness out."
> ENCHILADAS CALABAZA
5 pounds calabaza or favorite winter squash
3 to 4 tablespoons canola oil, divided
2 cups diced onions
8 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese
1 cup sliced green onions
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
14 corn tortillas (5 1/2 to 6 inches in diameter)
3/4 cup diced onion
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2 cups tomato sauce
1/4 cup minced cilantro
1 cup shredded cheddar/Monterey Jack cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To make the filling: Peel and seed the squash. Cut squash flesh into 1-inch pieces and spread the pieces out on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons oil and toss to coat.
Bake about 30-45 minutes, until cooked through. Remove from oven (leave oven on) and transfer squash to a large bowl. Mash up the squash a bit, then set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and saute the diced onions. Stir in the cream cheese until melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the mashed squash, green onions, chili powder, cinnamon, oregano, coriander, cumin and salt. Steam or microwave the tortillas to soften. Place about 1/4 cup (more if using larger tortillas) of squash filling in the center of the tortilla. Roll up and place seam side down in a lightly oiled baking dish.
To make the sauce: In a saucepan, place the onion, water, cayenne, black pepper, salt, garlic powder, chili powder and cumin. Cover and simmer until onions are tender. Stir in tomato sauce and cilantro and heat briefly.
Pour sauce over top of enchiladas. Sprinkle cheese on top. Bake until heated through and cheese is melted. Remove from oven and serve. Makes about 14.
From Seva Restaurant, Ann Arbor, Mich.
> WINTER GOLDEN VEGETABLE LASAGNA
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups favorite winter squash, peeled and cubed
1 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin puree
10 egg roll wrappers (5-inch square)
1 3/4 cups shredded aged Gouda cheese (about 8 ounces)
8 large basil leaves
For white sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups 2 percent milk, warmed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
For the lasagna: In a large nonstick skillet, melt the butter. Add the squash and 1 cup water and simmer over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the water is evaporated and the squash is golden and tender, about 13-15 minutes; set aside.
Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
Meanwhile, lightly grease an 8-inch-square glass baking dish and spread 1/2 cup white sauce (instructions below) in the bottom. In a bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree and egg.
Cut half of the egg roll wrappers into 3 strips each. Fill a large bowl with hot tap water (as you work with the wrappers, dip them in the water to rinse off the starch). Use 1 whole wrapper and 3 strips to cover the white sauce in the bottom of the dish in a single layer (there will be overlap). Spread a generous 1/2 cup of pumpkin mixture on top and sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheese. Repeat this layer.
Then, add another layer of egg roll wrappers. Spread with 1 cup white sauce, then top with the squash, basil and 1/3 cup cheese. Add another layer of egg roll wrappers, the remaining pumpkin mixture and 1/3 cup cheese. Top with the remaining egg roll wrappers, then spread with the remaining white sauce.
Cover the dish snugly with foil and bake on a baking sheet in the upper third of the oven for 30 minutes. Uncover the dish, sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup cheese on top and bake until golden and bubbling, about 10 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes before cutting.
For the creamy white sauce: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour for 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in warm milk, then bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and stir in parmesan and salt and pepper. Serves 6.
Adapted from Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine. October 2011
> MAPLE SQUASH MUFFINS
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups buttercup, kabocha or Hubbard squash puree
2 cups maple syrup
1 cup safflower oil
1 cup plain soy yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups toasted, chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil 24 muffin cups.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. In separate bowl, combine squash puree, maple syrup, oil, yogurt, vanilla and cider vinegar. Stir the wet ingredients into the flour mixture until just combined; do not overmix. Fold in pecans.
Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of muffins comes out clean. Remove from oven. Cool a few minutes in the pan and then invert muffins onto a cooling rack.
From chef Thomas Lasher of Inn Season Cafe, Royal Oak.