Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Give squash a chance

Bad P.R. and lousy old cooking methods have slagged this excellent veggie



Squash and their pumpkin cousins have always presented a kind of paradox to me. On the one hand they’re so visually gorgeous and compelling, especially this time of year when the markets are full of them: the last of the delicate little summer squash with their translucent skins; crazy-looking crooknecks with their long skinny necks bending in loops and angles; weird warty ones; fat Mother Hubbards; lumpy turbans that look like they’re wrapped in cloth.

The anomaly is that they look so brilliant, but most of us have some kind of horror story about eating them – forcing down lumps of butternut or Hubbard that our moms dutifully baked in a glass Pyrex dish with a bit of water, and served with butter and salt and pepper. If you were lucky, she’d top it with brown sugar; if you weren’t, you’d have to make your way not only through the squash but a concoction of tuna and bread crumbs or hamburger and onion stuffed in the hollowed-out middle.

No wonder most of us never cook with the stuff.

Then there are a couple of other challenges: once your bring one home, what the heck do you do with it – other than stuff or bake it – especially if it’s a big one. And if you decide to use it in a stir-fry or some other recipe that calls for squash sans skin, you know what a drag it is to peel. My theory is that’s why people bake or roast it – it’s so much easier to scoop out the flesh and discard the peel later.

But if you take up the challenge give squash a chance, you’ll probably get addicted. I laughed at a big fancy wedding we were at once – the first tray of food to empty in the buffet-style service was a gorgeous sautéed squash dish with a glaze of soy sauce and ginger. Not even the prawns and baron of beef were as popular. Why?

I think there’s something so satisfying about squash that we all go nuts for it when it’s presented in a half-appetizing way.

Indigenous people in North America considered squash, beans and corn the "holy trinity". The First Nations had discovered over thousands of years of cultivation that these provided a stable pyramid that complemented each other nutritionally, and while growing in the field. The three crops were grown together, the bean plants twining up to the sun on the corn stalks, and the squash plants trailing along the ground as ground cover.

Never mind the great rich flavour you can coax out of squash – and I’m thinking of the deep yellow and orange varieties here – the acorns, the butternuts, even pumpkin. Their nutritional value alone make them all worthy dinner companions. (Pumpkin can be used in much the same way as orange/yellow squash, but just remember the flesh has a higher moisture content, so adjust your recipes accordingly.)

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