Winter Squash and Sweet Potatoes

There is something magical about the marriage of sweet potatoes and butternut squash. They have similar textures and colors, but the flavors are unique to each. Combine them with white potatoes and you have a dish of exquisite sweet earthy flavors perfect for the winter season.

Grocery stores and farmers’ markets have all manner of winter squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Butternut squash is commonly available, but this dish is a great chance to try some other squashes like kabocha, Hubbard, Kuri, buttercup or even sugar pumpkins. Each squash has a somewhat unique flavor although they may be hard to tell apart unless you have them side by side.

This dish can be seasoned according to your culinary bent – with fresh or dried herbs, cheese, bacon or pancetta. However you season, be sure to use plenty of fresh ground black pepper and a hint of red pepper for a delectable main course or side dish.

Simply put, you will first make a seasoned creamy sauce, then cook the potato, sweet potato and squash slices until tender and finally layer them, pour over the sauce, top with cheese and bake.

Butternut, sweet potato, white potato bake

(serves 8 as a side dish, 4 as a main dish)

Roux (sauce)
2 T. butter
1 oz. pancetta or bacon (optional)
¼ c. finely minced onions or shallots
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
¼ c. flour
1 ½ c. milk (skim or 2%)
Approximately ¾ c. grated Parmigiano cheese
½ t.salt
½ t. fresh ground black pepper
¼ t. ground red pepper

1 large baking potato
1 medium sweet potato
Half of one small squash (save the other half for another dish)
½ c. grated gruyere, asiago or crumbled goat cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Peel and cube the potatoes and squash into ½” cubes. Add to boiling water and boil gently until tender, about 4-5 minutes (may take longer, depending on the density of the squash). You want them easily pierced with a fork, but not falling apart. Drain well.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter and add the pancetta or bacon if using, cooking until crisp. Add onion and garlic and cook until tender, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low, add flour and cook for about two minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly. Continue stirring over low heat until the sauce thickens. Add the parmesan, salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

Arrange vegetables in a shallow baking dish and pour sauce over the vegetables. Top with cheese and any desired herbs. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes. If desired, you can then put the dish under the broiler for 3 or 4 minutes until it is golden. Let stand ten minutes before serving.

This dish goes well as a side with any smoky meat such as barbecued ribs or smoked sausage. A perfect accompaniment is homemade applesauce, dusted with cinnamon.

Pumpkins and squash

All things pumpkin!

The nip of frost in the air and the smell of wood smoke outdoors are sublime companions to the scents of cinnamon baked apples and nutmeg-laced butternut squash in the kitchen. This is the perfect time to raid the last of the farmers’ markets and pumpkin farms to pick up the end-of-season bargain squash in every hue and flavor. Load the car with pie pumpkins, buttercups, Turk’s turbans, blue hubbards and kubochas.

Storing squash and pumpkins

Winter squash and pumpkins can be stored for months in a cool basement if you wash them with soapy water and dry them well. Store on wire racks in a cold room. A basement that stays in the 50’s is just about the right temperature.

Pumpkins are king

Red Pumpkin

Pumpkins are the kings of winter squash. Pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkin is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted, and pumpkin is also delicious when baked and mashed like potatoes. Look for small pie pumpkins, cheddar pumpkin, Cinderella pumpkin and pink or green pumpkins.

Easy to bake

Butternut squash ready for baking

Although often daunting because of the size, all it takes to bake most winter squashes is to cut them in half and invert them on a rimmed cookie sheet. You can remove the seeds before baking, especially if you want to toast the seeds, or you can bake with the seeds intact and remove them after baking. They come out more easily this way.

Bake for an hour or so at 350 degrees, depending on the size of the squash. Serve with butter, brown sugar, maple syrup or stuffed with whatever sounds luscious. All winter squashed are cooked the same way, and can be interchanged in almost any recipe.

Freeze it

The cooked flesh freezes well, and if you measure it into freezer bags in one cup batches, it’s ready to pull out for use whenever the mood hits to make muffins or squash bread. Or soup!

Spaghetti squash

Spaghetti squash and pie pumpkins

Spaghetti squash is a little different in that when it is cooked, you can separate the flesh into strands that really do resemble spaghetti. The “spaghetti” is delicious with a little butter and parmesan or even spaghetti sauce. And it doesn’t have the high calories of pasta.

My favorite recipe of the season is squash or pumpkin soup, flavored in any number of ways.

Easy Squash Soup

small butternut squash, pumpkin or other winter squash
1 c. chopped onion
2 t. oil
5 c. chicken or vegetable broth
2 T. molasses
1 t. curry powder or 2 T. red curry paste
¾ t. salt
1/8 t. cayenne or more to taste
⅔ c. half and half or coconut milk
Sliced red sweet or chili peppers for garnish

Mix onions with oil and spread on pan around squash. Roast at 425 45 minutes or until tender. Scoop out pulp, measure about three cups, and add with rest of ingredients to heavy pot. Bring to boil and simmer 5 minutes. Puree in blender and return to pan. Add half and half or coconut milk and warm until heated.

Serve with a drizzle of Sriracha or coconut milk, sliced red chilis, crumbled crisp bacon if you have meat eaters in the house, or chopped parsley or cilantro if desired.

                                                                                ©Kate Jerome 2019