Sonoma Dish: Winter squash for fall

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Spicy Sweet Buttered Squash

Any variety of squash can be substituted in this simple yet utterly delicious side dish.

Serves 6

3 acorn squash, cut in half with seeds and strings removed

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 bunch chives, minced, for garnish

1. Place the acorn halves cut side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until the shells give to pressure and the flesh is tender, approximately 30 minutes.

2. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and stir in the sugar, coriander, and nutmeg. Continue stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

3. Gently mash the pulp in the acorn halves and evenly divide the butter mixture over each half. Garnish with chives. Serve warm. Enjoy!

I didn’t grow up in a log cabin but I was raised in Montana. Avocados and Dry Jack cheese were not found at the corner store. During a Montana winter when everything — including what’s for dinner — depended on the weather, my family could expect a cut from the side of beef stored in the deep freeze and some variety of winter squash from the root cellar. As a kid, I didn’t appreciate the unique taste of squash. My mom would bake an acorn squash and further sweeten its deep orange pulp with browned butter and sugar. I refused to eat even this heavenly dish. What I so disliked about winter squash then, I now simply adore. The unique taste and texture of winter squash is an epicurian delight I have come to appreciate. Thank the food gods I’ve seen the error of my ways!

Two types of squash exist and are distinguished by their flesh and skin. Summer squash has a soft skin and tender, light-colored flesh. Harvested while still immature the fruit can be eaten flesh, rind, seeds and all. Winter squash, although a warm season fruit, is harvested and consumed in the mature fruit stage. The seeds are fully ripened and the skin is a hardened rind.

The availability, versatility and interchangeability of the squash make for a near perfect food. Almost all squash can be substituted in a recipe producing similar results when cooked. Just as versatile as the common potato, squash varieties – including the readily available assortment of acorn, butternut, spaghetti and delicata – can be baked, simmered, boiled, steamed or roasted, (even microwaved) to create both savory and sweet dishes.

Choose squash heavy for its size with a deep-colored rind free of blemishes. Store your squash in a cool, dark place for up to a month or more and do not refrigerate, as the humidity will cause rapid deterioration. Cutting and peeling can be a challenge but well worth the effort. Using heavy pressure on a sturdy surface, cut squash in half with the blade of a weighty chef’s knife and slice through diligently until it splits in two. Cut into more manageable pieces and peel with a paring knife or a heavy-duty vegetable peeler. Scoop out the seeds and strings and discard (or reserve the seeds for toasting making a great snack or garnish).

Don’t miss out on one of nature’s more unique tastes. A very flavorful source of complex carbohydrates and fiber, squash is super-rich with iron and beta-carotene. Less a trick and more of a treat, the more you eat this fall fruit, the more you’ll appreciate it.

Spicy Sweet Buttered Squash

Any variety of squash can be substituted in this simple yet utterly delicious side dish.

Serves 6

3 acorn squash, cut in half with seeds and strings removed

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 bunch chives, minced, for garnish

1. Place the acorn halves cut side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until the shells give to pressure and the flesh is tender, approximately 30 minutes.

2. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and stir in the sugar, coriander, and nutmeg. Continue stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

3. Gently mash the pulp in the acorn halves and evenly divide the butter mixture over each half. Garnish with chives. Serve warm. Enjoy!

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