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Tomato season closing, next up: winter squash

Photo Credit: STAFF PHOTO: BARB RANDALL - Mark Randall is beginning to harvest the winter squash he planted. Clockwise from left are a blue Hubbard, Sweet Mama, Jack Be Littles, acorn and spaghetti squash.

I am trying not to show my disappointment. My husband, Mark, is bringing me fewer and fewer tomatoes from his garden. Alas, tomato season is almost over. Lucky for me, he is growing a wide variety of winter squash, which should sooth my sadness at seeing tomato season come to a close.

Mark planted delicatas, spaghetti squash, tiny Jack Be Littles, acorns, blue Hubbards, Sweet Mamas and Cinderella pumpkins. Why so many kinds? They truly do have their own unique taste and characteristics. Here’s a rundown on how I like best to use them.

Delicatas — Nothing beats Gourmet Production’s treatment of delicatas. They simply coat rings of delicate with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme then roast them in the oven. They turn out beautifully caramelized and can be eaten warm or at room temperature. Visit www.gopro-lo.com for a video to learn exactly how to prepare them.

Spaghetti squash is so much fun to eat. When cooked, the flesh separates into thin “spaghetti” strands of squash. Simply wash the squash, cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray (or line with parchment or a silicone baking mat). Place the squash halves, flesh side down, on the baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes or until you can easily pierce the shell. Rake the strands of the squash into “spaghetti” and serve with your favorite sauce or butter, salt and pepper.

Acorn squash, Hubbards, Sweet Mamas and Cinderellas can be cut in half, or quartered if large, and roasted following the method above. You can season them with brown sugar, cinnamon and butter, or stuff them with savory sausage and sage.

If Mark’s garden produces a surplus, we can store the winter squashes in a cool, dark place; they will last for most of the winter. We store them on a shelf in the garage, but you could even stash them under the bed in a cool bedroom. They will store best at temperatures between 50 and 65 F.

You can also freeze winter squash. Just cook it as you normally would, then mash it and pack it in freezer containers.

Yes, the end of tomato season is always a little sad for me for there is nothing like the taste of a homegrown tomato. But I am comforted at the prospect of discovering new dishes of winter vegetables.

I’ve included two recipes that will showcase winter squash as the most satisfying and delicious food of the season. How do you like to eat winter squash? Share with me your favorite recipes for winter squash online or on Facebook.

Bon Appetit! Making eating an adventure!

Roasted Acorn Squash Salad

Serves 4 to 6

For baking the squash:

3 pounds acorn squash (1 large or 2 small ones)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

For dressing:

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted in the oven or in a dry skillet

1 tablespoon or so reduced balsamic vinegar, thickened for drizzling

2 tablespoons or more crumbled cheese (optional), such as aged goat cheese, drained fresh ricotta, cottage cheese or ricotta salata

Preheat the oven to 400 F. As soon as it is hot, you can toast the slivered almonds for garnishing the salad; spread them on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes, shaking them once or twice, until lightly colored and fragrant. Or toast them while the squash is roasting.

To prepare acorn squash: with a sharp vegetable peeler or paring knife, strip off the peel from the protruding ridges of the squash. You don’t need to peel more than this: leaving the rest of the peel will help the squash retain its shape and look nice too. (If you are roasting a smooth squash like butternut, remove all the peel.)

With a sharp heavy knife, cut the squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out all the seeds and fiber. Place each half cut side down, trim the ends, then cut semicircular slices of squash, all about 1-inch thick.

Put all the pieces in a pile on a large baking sheet, preferably nonstick or lined with parchment, or on a nonstick silicone baking mat. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil over the squash, sprinkle on the salt and toss to coat with the seasonings, then spread the pieces out to lie flat, not touching.

Bake 20 minutes, then flip the pieces over. Bake another 15 minutes or so, until the squash is just tender all the way through (poke with a fork to check) and nicely caramelized on the edges.

Assemble the salad: Let the squash pieces cool on the pan until you are ready to serve. Arrange them, in a symmetrical design or in a casual pile, on a large serving platter or on individual salad plates, with two or three slices per person. Refresh them with drizzles of olive oil, sprinkles of salt. Scatter the almond slivers over and then streaks or swirls of warm balsamic reduction. Finally, crumble bits of cheese all over.

Lidia’s Family Table, by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, 2004.

Baked Jack Be Little Pumpkins

For each serving you will need:

1 mini pumpkin

Pinch of ground coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice or garam masala or a big pinch of dried savory, sage or thyme, crumbled to powder

Pinch salt

Pinch pepper

1 teaspoon butter or nut oil

1 tablespoon prune, apple, cranberry or orange juice

1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey

Set oven to 350 F. With a sturdy sharp knife cut a square (or 5 to 6 sided) cap around the pumpkin stem, poking into the heart of the squash to cut the fibers. Pry out the cap. With a melon ball cutter or grapefruit spoon, scoop out and scrape the interior to remove all the seeds and fiber. Sprinkle spices or herbs, salt and pepper inside and tap to distribute. Add butter, juice and sweetening. Set cap back in opening, but do not press in fully or it may slip inside. Place in baking dish.

Bake until creamy-soft inside, about 30 minutes for small squash, 45 for larger ones. Test with knife tip; it should slide through easily. Let stand 15 to 60 minutes, as convenient.

Recipe courtesy of Mariquita.com

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281 ext. 100 or by email at brandall@lakeoswegoreview.com. Follow her on Twitter @barbrandallfood.

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