I love winter squash. I love the determination of the shell, the clever slippery seeds, the surprising variety in its taste and texture. It is one of my favorite winter comfort foods.
Late in autumn go to the farm stand. If you can’t get there, go to the supermarket, but be prepared to lie and tell everyone you went miles out of your way to find these lovely, eccentric squash.
Pick out a few beauties. Butternut, with its smooth, sultry skin. Acorn, with its seductive ridges. Dumpling, small and endearing. There are so many to choose from. Don’t let your squash lust run away with you. And only buy a hubbard if you have a good, sharp ax.
Cradle them like children in the back seat of your car. If you have a spare baby seat you may want to buckle the larger ones in. Bring them home. Store them in a cool, dry, dark place. They will wait for you.
When you’re ready to cook one, try this.
Pick your sharpest knife, for both safety and mercy. With as much strength as you can muster, cut the squash in half. Be careful - they can be quite resilient and you don’t want to get hurt.
Scrape out the seeds. You can save and roast them as you bake your squash if you wish - they will be lovely and delicious - after all, pumpkin is a squash! If you want to do this, pull off most of the stringy flesh from the seeds, toss with oil and salt and arrange in a single layer on a baking pan. Bake with the squash until they are golden brown and crispy, no more than 10 minutes. Let them cool a little before you eat them up, they can be vengefully hot!
Cut the squash into manageable portions - halve for delicata or dumpling, quarters for larger. Place them face up on an oiled baking sheet. Turn the oven onto 400f or so.
Some will tell you to use butter and sugar, but then you lose the delicate sweetness of the squash itself. Instead, rub the cut surface with a bit of EVOO, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Roast until a fork slides into the thickest part of the squash flesh with only a little resistance.
Let it cool for a bit before you scrape the shell out into a bowl. Drizzle with a little more EVOO.
Eat. Savor the product of sun and soil, summer and fall, lingering into your mouth in winter.
(c) 2011 Laura S. Packer