Squash in full swing

Chris Lord of Union 613 Restaurant with his Georgia Candy Roaster Squash and Peanut soup. (Photo: Chris Mikula)

If you look out at the chilly landscape, where most of the leaves have fallen and precious little green is growing, you may conclude that the parade of local produce — which started with rhubarb and asparagus in May and rose to tomatoes, basil and corn in September — has passed for this year.

You’d be wrong. The season for winter squash — a truly local crop that’s native to the Americas — is in full swing.

“We picked 10 tonnes on the first Sunday in October,” said Andy Terauds, owner of Acorn Creek Garden Farm in Carp. “We wanted to get them off the vine before the frost set in. Frost on the pumpkin is actually not a good thing.”

But because winter squash store so well — many types are said to be better after they’ve cured for several weeks — the winter squash season has just started and goes right through winter.

“Now, with the chill in the air, squash is comfort food,” says Josh Drache, executive chef at Farm Boy. “It’s the soul food of Eastern Ontario.”

Its roots go way back: there is evidence of squash being eaten in Mexico as far back as 5500 BC. Winter squash, such as butternuts and Hubbards, are distinguished from summer squash, such as zucchini and pattypan, by their thick skins and hard seeds. They can give you a nutritional shot in the arm as you cope with colder weather: that meaty orange flesh is a super source of fibre, Vitamin C and potassium.

Winter squash comes in dozens of colourful varieties — everything from the exotic Turban and the burnt-orange-streaked Speckled Hound to the ghostly Kabocha Blue — but, inside, all types share a wonderful versatility: squash is good in everything from soup to brownies. Here are five top recipes for savouring squash:

Thai Red Curry Featuring Jamaican Pumpkin

(Photo: Pat McGrath)

Josh Drache, executive chef at Farm Boy, says that when he created this Thai curry recipe for the Citizen, it was the first time he’d ever worked with the giant Jamaican Pumpkin squash, which Farm Boy sells whole as well as in smaller chunks.

“It was high drama once I opened it,” he says. “I’ve never seen colour like that. Because the colour is dynamite, and I love Asian flavours, I decided to do this Asian curry. It was so much fun.”

Makes: 2 main-course or 4 appetizer servings

■ One 398-mL (14-ounce) can coconut milk

■ 2 stems lemongrass, sliced

■ 1 tbsp (15 mL) canola

■ Half a Spanish onion, diced fine

■ 3 inches (8-cm) fresh ginger, minced

■ 2 cloves garlic, minced

■ 350 g (12 ounces) Jamaican pumpkin, cut in 3/4-inch (2-cm) cubes

■ 1 red pepper, seeded and julienne

■ 1 yellow pepper, seeded and julienne

■ 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced

■ 1 tbsp (15 mL) red curry paste

■ 1/4 cup (50 mL) fish sauce

■ 1 1/4 cup (300 mL) chicken stock

■ 12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (optional)

■ 1 lime

For garnish:

■ 1 cup (250 mL) fresh bean sprouts

■ 1 tbsp (15 mL) cilantro, minced

■ 2 tbsp (25 mL) green onion, minded

■ 2 tbsp (25 mL) roasted peanuts

1. Heat coconut milk and lemongrass in a small saucepan over medium heat to steep for 20 minutes.

2. Place a medium saucepan (3-quart/3-litre capacity) over medium-high heat; add canola, onion, ginger and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 to 6 minutes, allowing onion to become translucent but not browned.

3. Add Jamaican pumpkin, peppers and red curry paste to onion mixture; cook for 1 minute. Add fish sauce and chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Cook gently for about 6 to 7 minutes, until squash is tender, then add shrimp if desired.

4. Strain lemongrass-infused coconut milk over the curry. Cut lime in half and squeeze juice of one half into the curry. Add half the beans sprouts, cilantro, green onion and peanuts.

5. Place curry in serving bowl and top with remaining beans sprouts, cilantro, green onion, peanuts and wedges of remaining half lime. Serve with rice or noodles.

Squash Dumplings

Jonathan Korecki, the executive chef at Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen who recently won fame as one of the finalists on Top Chef Canada, says his favourite squash is the kabocha, which he gets from Acorn Creek Garden Farm. Here’s his recipe for making dumplings from the kabocha, which is popular in Japan.

Makes: about 30 to 40 dumplings or about 4 servings

■ 1 medium kabocha squash

■ 1/4 cup (50 mL) butter

■ 1 to 1 1/2 cups (250 to 375 mL) all-purpose flour

■ 1 egg

■ 1 tbsp (15 mL) kosher salt

■ Leaves from 12 to 16 Brussels sprouts, blanched

■ 1 McIntosh apple

1. Wash the squash and cut into quarters. Use a spoon to remove seeds and pithy insides. Simmer the quarters in salted water until tender — about 30 minutes.

2. While the squash is cooking, brown the butter over medium heat until nutty and fragrant.

3. Once squash is cooked, scoop out the flesh and press through a ricer or a food mill: it should yield about 4 cups (1 L). In a bowl, mix the squash, flour, eggs and salt until just combined. On a floured surface, roll the mixture into logs about an inch (2 to 3 cm) thick, then cut into inch-long (3-cm) dumplings. (At this point, you can freeze the dumplings on a tray and cook from frozen.)

4. Whether fresh-made or frozen, cook dumplings in a pot of boiling salted water until they float. Toss with some blanched Brussels sprouts leaves, batons (like matchsticks but a bit thicker and sturdier) of fresh apple and brown butter.

Georgia Candy Roaster Squash & Peanut Soup

(Photo: Chris Mikula)

Chris Lord, chef at the hot new Union 613 restaurant on Somerset Street, says he first created this soup with sweet potatoes for a chef appreciation night at Oz Kafe back in January, months before Union 613 opened.

“I really liked the way it turned out,” he says. “But now I make it with George Candy Roaster squash, from Rideau Pines and Acorn Creek, and I like it even better. We’ll keep it on the menu as long as I can get the squash.”

Makes: about 20 cups (5 L) or about 10 to 15 servings

■ Half a Georgia Candy Roaster squash (about 4 lbs/2 kg), peeled, seeded and cubed

■ 3 tbsp (30 mL) canola oil, divided

■ 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced

■ 1 stalk celery, diced

■ Half a large Spanish onion, peeled and diced

■ Half a head of garlic, peeled and minced

■ 1 tbsp (15 mL) curry powder

■ 1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground cumin

■ 1/2 tsp (2 mL) chili powder

■ 2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

■ 1/2 cup (125 mL) peanuts, roasted

■ About 10 cups (2.5 L) vegetable or chicken stock

■ 1/2 cup (125 mL) smooth peanut butter

■ Half a 28-ounce (800-mL) can whole tomatoes

■ 2 cups (500 mL) 35% cream

Garnish:

■ Onion sprouts

■ Roasted peanuts

■ Smoked olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C). Toss the squash with 1 tbsp (15 mL) of canola oil to coat. Roast on a pan in oven until the flesh is soft and starting to caramelize.

2. In a large pot, heat remaining 2 tbsp (25 mL) canola oil over medium heat and add the diced carrot, celery, onion and garlic. Sauté until the onions are translucent, then add roasted squash, spices, chipotle peppers and peanuts.

3. Add the stock and increase the heat until soup is simmering. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

4. Add peanut butter, tomatoes and cream. Simmer for another 15 minutes.

5. Using a blender, purée soup in small batches, then strain through a chinois (conical strainer). Once all the soup has been strained, reheat and season to taste with salt and pepper and adjust consistency by adding more liquid.

6. If desired, garnish bowls of soup with onion sprouts, roasted peanuts and smoked olive oil.

The recipes for these seasonal treats come from Foodland Ontario.

Squash Brownies with Chocolate Swirl Topping

Makes: about 24 brownies

Chocolate Swirl Topping:

■ 4 ounces (125 g) cream cheese, at room temperature

■ 2 tsp (25 mL) granulated sugar

■ 1 egg

■ 1/2 tsp (2 mL) vanilla

■ 1 cup (250 mL) chocolate chips

Brownies:

■ 1 cup (250 mL) mashed cooked squash

■ 1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar

■ 1/4 cup (50 mL) buttermilk

■ 1/4 cup (50 mL) cooking oil

■ 2 eggs, well beaten

■ 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla

■ 1 1/4 cups (300 mL) all-purpose flour

■ 1 tsp (5 mL) baking powder

■ 1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon

■ 1/2 tsp (2 mL) ginger

■ 1/2 tsp (2 mL) baking soda

■ 1/4 tsp (1 mL) nutmeg

■ 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt

■ 1/2 cup (125 mL) toasted chopped nuts

1. For Chocolate Swirl Topping: In small bowl, cream together cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla; stir in chocolate chips. Set aside.

2. For brownies: In large bowl, stir together squash, brown sugar, buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. Sift or stir together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, nutmeg and salt; stir into squash mixture until combined. Stir in nuts. Spread into greased 13-by-9-inch (3.5 L) pan.

3. Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Drop Chocolate Swirl topping by heaping 1 tbsp (15 mL) onto batter. Swirl batter with knife. Bake for 35 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Let cool; cut into squares.

You can make this easy brittle with the seeds from your jack-o-lantern or with seeds from any large squash.

Microwave Toasted Pumpkin-Seed Brittle

Makes: 3/4 pound (375 g)

■ 3/4 cup (175 mL) granulated sugar

■ 1/4 cup (50 mL) corn syrup

■ 1/4 cup (50 mL) water

■ 1 cup (250 mL) toasted pumpkin or squash seeds (see microwave method for toasting, below)

■ 1 tbsp (15 mL) butter

■ 1/2 tsp (2 mL) baking soda

■ 1/2 tsp (2 mL) vanilla

1. In 8-cup (2L) microwave-safe measure, combine sugar, corn syrup, water and 1 cup toasted seeds.

2. Microwave on High, uncovered, for 10 to 11 minutes or until medium-dark brown, without stirring.

3. Stir in butter, baking soda and vanilla. Immediately pour onto greased baking sheet, spreading out as much as possible and cool; then break into chunks.

Note: Recipe was tested in a 700-watt microwave. Cooking times may vary.

Microwave Toasted Pumpkin or Squash Seeds:

■ 1 cup (250 mL) seeds (unrinsed but pulp removed)

■ 1 tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil

■ Salt to taste

1. Toss seeds with vegetable oil and salt to taste.

2. Spread out in microwave-safe shallow dish and microwave on High for 5 minutes, stirring every minute.

3. Next, microwave on Medium for another 8 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes, or until crisp.

Some sensational squash dishes around town:

■ Farm Boy sells a silky smooth Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, which is made with garlic and whipping cream: a 946-mL take-home container is $5.99 or you can buy of a bowl of it, hot, for $2.99 for 12 ounces, $3.49 for 16 ounces. “It’s the king of our soups,” says executive chef Josh Drache.

■ Bridgehead is featuring a fall-favourite Quinoa Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash and Feta for $5.95. It’s made with local organic squash from Songberry Farm and will be available until the end of November.

42 Crichton Street Fine Foods is offering Rochon Farms’ Roasted Blue Hubbard Soup made with Fromagerie les Folies Bergères L’Apprenti-Sorcier Cheese this week: $13.50 for a litre to take home or about $6 for a bowl at lunch.

■ The Green Door Restaurant on Main Street will have its popular Squash Salad with Japanese Sesame Dressing on the menu until the new year, or as long as the organic squash, from Metcalfe and Arnprior, is available. It’s $20.25 per kg. You can find the recipe in The Green Door Restaurant Vegetarian Cookbook by Poppy Weaver.

■ Art Is In has a seasonal Butternut Squash Caponata sandwich on the menu at its City Centre boulangerie: $8.95.

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