Tag Archives: winter squash

Thoughts on Squash in Winter

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We’ve all noticed it lately: more light. On the Colorado Front Range where the sun drops abruptly behind the mountains rather than drifts slowly to the horizon, we notice when the days get longer and 4:00 isn’t twilight anymore. Longer days mean shorter nights for the cold to settle in and more time for the sun to warm the frozen earth. By the third week in January, even the chickens take note of the increased sunlight to start laying again.

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At Stonebridge, we’re eating our winter fare from storage vegetables grown last season—the tail end of the harvest when meals are both simple and inventive. Take winter squash, for example. We usually store our winter squash in the closet of an unheated bedroom where it won’t rot or freeze. Yesterday I spotted a few butternut hanging out in the cool room of our barn. I thought they may have frozen since they weren’t covered with a tarp like the other vegetables we store there (onions, carrots, garlic, leeks, and roots). I tested one with my thumbnail. Seemed okay. Why not make Thai butternut soup?

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I’ve written about this soup before (check it out here if you want the actual recipe). The first time I made it was for a January yoga and writing retreat at the farm. Thai butternut is the perfect soup for mid-January: savory and filling from the squash, garlic, onions, and ginger, with a tangy dose of citrus from the lime juice and lemongrass. Now I get hungry for this soup every January–plus it’s a good way to use the storage vegetables in the barn and closet.

The hardest part about this soup is peeling the squash. Most of my winter squash recipes involve baking squash first to use as an ingredient rather than peeling them. I generally enjoy the textures and smells of fresh vegetables as I prepare them, but I don’t love peeling squash, I decided once again as I stood at the sink for longer than I’d like. I do know what makes it easier: my Japanese vegetable peeler, the kind that doesn’t swivel.

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John volunteered to quarter the large squash  first. (I’m not sure whether he likes doing it or he’s worried about my using the knife.) I cut each of those sections in halves or thirds, depending on the curvature of the piece. Smaller pieces are easier to peel; if you get them too small, you’re likely to peel your fingers. About like this is good:

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Cutting and peeling a squash reminds me of the time my Grandma Short brought a big Hubbard squash to our house when I was a kid. I wrote about that squash in A Bushel’s Worth but I mis-remembered who chopped it. Recently a family photo surfaced of my Grandma Smith with a hatchet and Aunt Lola holding the squash on the ground for Grandma to whack the tough thing. In the book I debated whether the squash was hard because of the variety or because my Grandma Short saved her own seeds (squash cross-pollinate with others within their species). We’ll never know but that was one thick-skinned cucurbit.

Besides craving its warming flavors, I like to make Thai Butternut soup so I can use my vintage juicer, just like the one Grandma Smith used to juice lemons for her meringue pie. I do buy fresh limes for this recipe, if I think of it beforehand. Like chocolate, salt, and olive oil, I forego my buy local habits for this recipe because fresh lime juice enhances the flavor but a good bottled juice is fine too. Similarly, if I happen to see fresh lemongrass, I’ll pick it up, but I’ve also used dried (raised by farm members) to great success.

If you don’t have an immersion blender, borrow one for this soup. I resisted buying an immersion blender for many years—just another appliance to store—but it’s worth every penny for the time and mess avoided ladling soup into a food processor.

Last night’s soup was perfect for a cold winter’s night. I’m sure our version isn’t authentically Thai—especially when served with baking powder biscuits—but the recipe is pretty simple once the squash is peeled. Tonight we’ll have the leftovers with some Thai veggie rolls I’ll pick up from our local restaurant. When you make enough for leftovers, a big pot of soup becomes fast food.

Someday I’d like to write a book on storage vegetables, the kind that only need a cool, dry place to get them through the winter. (A heavy box covered by a blanket in your garage can even work.) Winter squash will be on that list, especially butternut with its solid upper section providing a larger flesh-to-seed ratio than other squashes. Eating storage veggies is one way to hunker down in the winter—you don’t have to go to the store to get them!

Cinnamon finds her own winter storage food–in the compost pile

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Midwinter Cuisine: Let the Squash Simmer!

 

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I’m busy getting ready for our yoga and lifewriting women’s winter respite tomorrow, but I want to share a link to a fun article that includes our farm by food writer Cindy Sutter in the Boulder Daily Camera. John and I had to chuckle at Cindy’s mid-winter weariness for squash and roots. We’d probably feel the same way if we didn’t have fresh arugula in our greenhouse for salads and sandwiches and delicious Winterbor kale under row cover out in the field (when it’s not covered with snow) for stir-fries and soups. Those greens add a lot to our winter cuisine.

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We also make our “sundried” (dehydrated) tomatoes a regular part of our diet. Now that the chickens are laying again (they take some time off for the shortest winter days), we’re back to sundried tomato omelettes with herbs (even fresh rosemary from the greenhouse) and chevre. It’s true that our winter meals are less varied than meals the rest of the year, but that’s part of the way we simplify our lives in these darker, colder days.

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Even in the midst of winter, we’re thinking about spring here at Stonebridge. The onions are poking up in the greenhouse flats and the seed order has arrived.

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At last Saturday’s ditch meeting, we were assured that we’d have water by May 1st, if not before. The St Vrain river will be re-connected to our irrigation ditch (with our annual ditch fees going up 200% for the next 27 years!). The snowpack is heavy, which any other year would be great news. This year, spring run-off in the damaged river channel worries all of us, but we are happy to have snow levels up again. We know some Boulder County farmers are facing much more difficult situations following the flood. We can’t help but be grateful that our farm fared as well as it did. Farming is a tenuous undertaking in any year, but farmers are a hopeful lot. As I said at the end of the Camera article, farming is forgiving because you get to start over every season.

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If you’ve still got winter squash in your pantry, here’s the recipe for the soup I’m making today for our respite tomorrow. I know it’s not as authentically Thai as it could be, but it’s still wonderful and warming and very adaptable, perfect for a nourishing January meal. And your house will smell amazing while it’s simmering!

Thai Butternut Soup

I put my sliced lemongrass rounds in two large mesh tea balls and immerse those with the squash as it simmers. That way, I don’t have to strain the soup. I didn’t want to strain it because that’s a hassle and I don’t want to lose any squash texture. I also put my lime zest in a mesh ball. I use a Stonebridge blended chili powder to taste. You could use whole Serrano chilis instead, removing before pureeing. An immersion blender works like a dream for this soup. You could also transfer in batches to a food processor or blender.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 Tbl olive oil
3 pounds butternut squash (1 very large squash or 2 medium), peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
. To peel, slice in rounds first and then, laying the rounds flat on the chopping board, slice the skin off the edge of each piece by moving the knife around the round.
1 cup dry white wine
10 cups vegetable broth (2.5 32-oz boxes of an organic brand, perhaps more depending on desired thickness)
2 stalks lemongrass, coarsely sliced or chopped (see note above)
Zest of one lime
1/3 cup fresh lime juice (I use two large limes, room temp and squeezed in my 1940s juicer)
1/4 cup fish sauce
3/4 tsp salt
 or to taste
Ground pepper to taste
1/2 tsp hot pepper powder or to taste

Cook the onion, garlic, and ginger in the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden. Add the squash pieces and wine; boil, uncovered, until wine is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the broth and simmer, covered with a little venting, until squash is tender, about 45 minutes. (Here’s when I immerse my tea balls of lemongrass and zest so they simmer with the squash, removing them when the squash is tender).

Puree the squash mixture well with an immersion blender or in food processor. Return to pot and blend/stir in lemon grass & lime zest (still in strainers, if using) lime juice, fish sauce, chili powder or chilis, and salt and pepper. If you’d like it a little thinner, add some more veggie broth.

Simmer 20 minutes with the lid slightly open.

Season with salt, hot pepper powder, and regular ground pepper to taste. Freezes well.

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Winter Leftovers: From Closet to Bowl

Today feels like spring might be . . . almost . . . willing to show its face around here. That doesn’t mean we won’t get snow in March or even April or May. But it does mean it’s time to start working on Saturday mornings with our bartering crew again. Tomorrow we’ll make soil and seed brassicas and transplant lettuces into the newly renovated bluehouse and rake the sticks that have blown all over the farm this windy winter. Stonebridge Season 21 will be underway!

The advent of spring brings thoughts of fresh vegetables but we won’t have veggies in the garden for a while yet. We do have some wintered-over spinach in the fields that we can harvest from time to time, but mainly we’re still eating the food we preserved from last year’s gardens by freezing, dehydrating, canning, or just storing in various ways.

Carnival Winter Squash

We still have lots of “sundried”—dehydrated—tomatoes for pasta, quiches, and omelettes. In the insulated cool room of our barn, we have garlic and onions. In the bottom drawer of the refrigerator, we have a few carrots that haven’t gone soft yet (hint: leave just a stub of green stem on them and they’ll store longest). In the freezer, we have broccoli, peas, mushrooms, and some chopped peppers, along with frozen tubs of marinara sauce, salsa, and cooked squash. In the closet of the unheated bedroom, we have a butternut and a carnival squash that still look great (an insulated cooler in a garage works well too). The shelves of the root cellar are lined with canned chutneys and jams.  And in buckets in the barn, we have dried beans.

Speckled Rose Beans (we're not sure of the variety name)

This winter we pledged to start using a pressure cooker. Our friends who use them kept encouraging us to give it a try, but we’d both been scarred by childhood fears of kitchen explosions in the old days when pressure cookers didn’t have the safety features they have now. I also associate pressure cookers with what my grandmother called “pressed chicken,” which she’d make for sandwiches on our long drive home from North Dakota to Colorado every summer. My grandmother was a great cook and I miss her fresh bread, but I always found that chicken a little strange with its gooey texture and suspicious gel when refrigerated. Just another childhood memory to make me a vegetarian today.

But we figured we could get over those scars enough to use a pressure cooker for beans at the very least. We grow several varieties of dried beans at Stonebridge, including the Oregon state bean, Peregion, a beautiful black and white bean that has a distinctive flavor. I like beans but never felt like we were cooking them to their optimal texture.  One trick that helps is to put 1 tsp of baking soda in the soaking water overnight and then rinse well before cooking. This helps make the beans less gassy. Another trick is to never, ever salt them until they’re done cooking because salt makes them tougher.

Oregon Peregion Beans

These tricks helped my bean consumption but I still didn’t like having to leave them on the stove or in the crockpot for hours and I still didn’t love the texture. I wanted more from my beans, especially after we’d spent so much time growing, threshing, cleaning, and soaking them.

So we bought a 6-qt pressure cooker, held our breaths, and got it rocking with our soaked beans, water, a couple veggie broth cubes, some Cuban-inspired cumin and oregano, and a couple cloves of garlic. After about 20 minutes, the cooker come to pressure and the top regulator weight started dancing over low heat. We simmered for 15 minutes and then shut off the burner and let the cooker slowly release the pressure, another 25 minutes. Now we’re brave enough to put the whole thing under running water, which makes the steam release in a few minutes, but that first time, we thought we’d wait.

Jacob's Cattle Beans

The beans were wonderful—tender, creamy even, with delicious flavor. We’ve been making beans once a week all winter in a large enough batch to freeze extra for lunch burritos, nachos, or enchiladas.

We’ve graduated to another dish as well, one that uses a winter-stored squash from our closet. If you’ve got a pressure cooker, try the Risotto with Squash and Sage recipe below. I don’t have fresh sage this time of year so used dried and it was just fine. I also had enough uncooked squash left to use in a soup, so I got two dishes out of one butternut squash.

If you’ve still got pumpkin in your freezer (many people roast, puree, and freeze them for bread or pie), try the Pumpkin-Citrus Bundt Cake recipe too. We host digital storytelling workshops here in the summer so I was looking for something that I could make ahead and freeze for a morning treat later. This cake is delicious and gets even a little moister with freezing. I left out the poppy seeds & orange peel and added mini-chocolate chips because I love pumpkin and dark chocolate together. I don’t see why winter squash wouldn’t work here as well—they’re pretty interchangeable with pumpkins.

We’ll keep eating beans and finish off what’s left in our freezer and storage. By then, the spinach will be thriving and the lettuces will be big enough in the bluehouse for harvest. Next year, we’ll have greens and carrots growing all winter in the bluehouse and that will be a delight. But we’ve done okay this winter with what we’ve put by from our own fields–and we’re glad we got over our fear of exploding pressure cookers!

Pressure Cooker Risotto with Winter Squash and Sage
Adapted from County Home, Feb 2008

½ cup finely chopped onion
1 Tbl. Olive oil
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
3 ½ – 4 cups veggie broth
1 ½ Lb. butternut or other winter squash, peeled, seeded, and cut in 1-inch chunks
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tsp fresh sage or 1 heaping Tbl dried sage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grated parmesan cheese for topping

In a 4- or 6-qt pressure cooker, sauté onion in hot oil over medium-high heat until golden. Stir in rice and coat with oil. Carefully add wine; cook and stir until rice has absorbed the wine (about 30 seconds). Add 3 ½ cups broth and cubed squash.

Lock lid in place. Over high heat, bring cooker to pressure. Reduce heat just enough to retain pressure and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off heat.

Quick-release the pressure by placing cooker under cold running water. When the pressure indicator has popped down, carefully remove lid, tilting away from you to allow steam to escape.

Set the cooker over medium-high heat again and stir vigorously. It will look fairly soupy at this point.

Cook, uncovered, until mixture thickens and rice is tender but still chewy, about 3-5 minutes, stirring every minute or so. If it becomes dry before the rice is done, add ½ cup broth. The finished risotto should be slightly runny because it will continue to thicken on the plate.

Turn off heat. Stir in ½ cup Parmesan, sage, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with additional cheese on top if desired. Makes 4 main dish servings or 8 side dish servings.

Pumpkin-Citrus Bundt Cake
Adapted from Krista Frank’s recipe in Country Woman

2 cups cooked pumpkin
1 ¼ cugs sugar (turbinado is fine)
1 ¼ cups fat-free milk
2 eggs
½ cup orange juice
1/3 cup safflower oil
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cup unbleached flour
1 ½ cup whole wheat or WW pastry flour
2 Tbl grated orange peel (optional)
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 Tbl cornstarch
1 Tbl poppy seeds (optional)
1 tsp each cinnamon, ginger, cardamom
½ each allspice, nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
1 cup mini dark chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350.
Grease and flour a bundt cake pan.

In large bowl, beat pumpkin, sugar, milk, eggs, juice, oil, and vanilla until well blended.

In separate bowl, combine flours, orange peel, baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, poppy sees, spices, and salt.

Beat dry mixture and chocolate chips into pumpkin mixture until blended. Pour into prepared bundt pan.

Bake at 350 for 60 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the thickest part comes clean.

Cool for 10 minutes. Place a rack on top of the pan and invert the cake onto the rack.

This freezes well when wrapped in foil and thawed before serving.

Winter Luxury Pie Pumpkins

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