It’s edible decoration time – although sadly most of the Jack O’Lanterns that languish on front steps are inedible, or will be by next Tuesday.
Which is a shame, because winter squash with its autumn-tinted orange flesh offers you plenty of beta-carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A; vitamins C and E, calcium, magnesium and potassium, and lots of fibre.
Don’t forget to harvest the zinc that’s hiding out in squash: scoop those seeds, give them a soak and rinse off the webbing, then season and roast with oil until golden for crunchy winter snacks. If you roast young squash, the cooked skin, like the skin of baked potatoes, is usually edible and adds a secondary flavour, as well as abundant fibre, so taste it before you scrape or peel it off.
The classic routine with winter squash is to roast wedges, tossed in oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, and eat as a soft, sweet side dish. Some squash varieties (roasted and pureed) stand in for pumpkin better than others in sweet dishes like (pumpkin) pie or (pumpkin) bread, but the denser smoother fleshed ones will give better results. And you can always puree roasted squash into a spicy winter soup (or try one of these savoury recipes) if it doesn’t look like it will work for pie.
One of my favourite recipes of recent years is a squash and caramelized garlic tart by Yotam Ottolenghi. Though it calls for butternut squash, any dense, orange-fleshed winter squash will work. To get the texture right you will, sadly, have to peel the squash for this one. He also does an utterly delicious butternut squash with tahini and za’atar.
DIY pumpkin pie filling: to prepare for use in pies or anywhere canned pumpkin is called for, cut the squash in half, scoop the seeds (roast them for snacks!) and roast, cut-side down, on a baking sheet at 400f/200c. About half an hour, turn one half over and test with a fork; if it passes easily through to the skin, it’s done; if not, cook a bit longer. When done, puree in a food processor or blender, then strain overnight in a jelly bag or coffee filter. Be sure to save the drained liquid for soup stocks, gravy etc. (Canning safety note: if you actually plan to can pumpkin, do so in cubes that you can puree when you need them, as pureed pumpkin is particularly vulnerable to spoilage when canned.)
Spaghetti squash has achieved new popularity among paleo and low-carb diners, as it makes an excellent substitute for pasta. Roast as above. When finished, use a fork to loosen the strands. Drain in a colander if it seems soggy.
Pumpkin pancakes are another grain-free use for winter squash. Follow the roasting instructions above; then scoop the flesh into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Place in a jelly bag or coffee filter and let the excess liquid drip into a bowl (save this for soup stock or to thin gravy etc.) for a couple of hours or overnight.
But I’m a pumpkin pie fanatic, so here’s a version you can serve your gluten-free, dairy-free or low-carb diners:
Crustless Pumpkin Pie
(based on Pumpkin Custard from Practical Paleo)
Yield: 4-6 servings depending on the size of your ramekins.
1 cup canned/fresh (drained) pumpkin puree
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ea grated nutmeg & mace
pinch sea salt
2 organic eggs
¼ c grade B maple syrup
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup coconut milk (full fat)
- Pre-heat the oven to 350f/170c.
- Combine pumpkin and all spices in one bowl.
- In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs lightly then whisk in the maple syrup, vanilla and coconut milk.
- Whisk the egg mixture into the pumpkin mixture until well combined.
- Pour the custard into six 1/2 cup ramekins (or a small – 3 cup – buttered quiche pan). Place the ramekins in a baking pan and add enough hot water to the dish to come up 2″ high around the ramekins.
- Carefully place in the oven and bake for 60 minutes or until a knife inserted into the centre of the custard comes out clean.
- Serve warm or chilled, with or without whipped cream (dairy or coconut).