Winter Squash are easily my most favorite produce this time of year, yet my affection is tinted with a bit of jealously: Squash are better traveled than I am. They don’t have little passports, but from their native home in Meso-America, the cucurbita have moved across the world and won over local populations wherever their seeds have sprouted. Although I much rather be boarding a plane for adventure (and sunny locales), I can, less excitingly, travel the world from the comfort of my kitchen with a few pounds of squash.
Our fellow contributor Elizabeth Miller went and got all Italian on a butternut with her gnocchi. I chose a different route, going with pasta. Every fall I make and freeze about 100 plump, crescent-shaped Agnolotti. There are about as many ways to make this ravioli as there are cooks, so I tend to worry less about keeping it “authentic” and focus on flavor. Filling the Agnolotti with baked pumpkin and/or acorn squash, ricotta, salt and pepper. If what goes in the ravioli is often disputed, how they are served is downright contentious: Brown butter, caramelized shallots and sage? Arugula and garlic cream sauce? Olive oil and breadcrumbs? Or simmered then topped with crumbled blue cheese – like Rogue’s Oregonzola or Jacobs Creamery’s brand new blue cheese. My answer is yes. The great thing about making so many agnolotti at once is I am always 10 minutes away from a fairly elegant dinner, no matter how I sauce them.
Squash lends itself so well to soups and stews, it shouldn’t be all that shocking that Winter Squash tastes so good in Thai Red Curry, yet it’s a pleasant surprise every time I make it – the heat of the peppers, the sweetness of coconut milk and texture of squash all play off each other offering a taste that is both immediate and lingering. There are moments a spoonful curry in front of me, happy flavors bouncing around in my mouth that makes me wonder if the Meso-American natives peppers and squash had to travel half way around the globe to be truly realized.
I might feel that way for a week until I combine dried pinto beans with dried peppers and cook slowly before adding baked squash and tomatoes at the end. One bite of this finished stew, especially when served with corn tortillas and tomatillo salsa and I am pretty certain Triple Alliance (Read Aztec) farmers were probably onto this combination seven centuries ago.
As you take your next trip around the Market, you’ll spot the recognizable pumpkin, and will notice the familiar acorn and butternut squashes along with dozens of lesser varieties like the orange and blue hued Kuri, the yellow spaghetti squash, the inviting delicata, the curiously shaped and tasty Turban – go ahead and take one home. The great thing about cooking is you can explore whole new worlds with a single ingredient.