Recipes to Make the Most of Vermont's Squash Harvest | Food + Drink Features | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Recipes to Make the Most of Vermont's Squash Harvest

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Drive by almost any roadside farm these days, and you'll see orange pumpkins curing in the fields or harvested and piled in rustic wooden bins. Eager children paw through them, searching for the perfect one to carve.

Pumpkins may make ideal Halloween décor and delicious pies, but for many serious cooks, the ubiquitous fall squashes — and their best-known cousins, butternut and acorn squash — are just a starting point. For my part, after years of professional cooking, I'll only use those types of squash as a last resort.

By way of comparison, consider the Granny Smith. It's a good apple for shipping around the country, but its one-note sourness has nothing on the complex flavors of heirloom apples with odd names, such as Esopus Spitzenburg and Ashmead's Kernel.

Same goes for squash. The common pumpkin's flavor can't hold a candle to that of the many delicious and distinctive squash that grow in Vermont fields, such as buttercup, blue Hubbard, red kuri, delicata and sweet dumpling.

To give you a taste, we created recipes using three of those squash varieties — which sport dense, sweet flesh and sometimes flavors of chestnut or spices. Granted, all these recipes will work with pretty much any winter squash. If you find yourself with a bland one, adjust your seasonings accordingly.

And follow some basic rules to ease your time in the kitchen. First, get a really good vegetable peeler. Few culinary tasks are less pleasant than trying to take the thick, robust skin off a stubborn squash using a wimpy, old or dull tool. Second, if a recipe calls for peeling a squash, don't choose one of the rumply ones with lots of striations. Plenty of smooth-skinned varieties will serve you better.

Finally, when in doubt, roast. Roasting, especially at higher temperatures — I'm a big fan of 425 degrees — will caramelize the squashes' sugars and cause water to evaporate, concentrating flavor. Happy autumn!

Notes: All recipes are made using kosher salt. If you use table salt or fine sea salt, you will need to reduce the amount. I use sunflower oil because it tastes wonderful, and several local versions are available.

Blue Hubbard Bread Pudding with Ham, Leeks and Chèvre

Ingredients:

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For the filling:

  • 1 large leek
  • 1 small blue Hubbard squash
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 15 grinds pepper
  • 1 pound ham steak

For the bread cubes:

  • 1 loaf polenta bread

For the custard:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1½ cups heavy cream
  • 1½ cups half-and-half
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle powder
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 15 grinds pepper

Topping:

  • ¼ pound chèvre

Preparation:

  1. Make the filling: Cut off the dark green leek top, leaving the pale cylinder. Cut in half lengthwise and wash away any dirt in cold water. Place the flat surface on a cutting board and slice thinly into half-moons.
  2. Remove the squash stem, cut squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Peel each half. Place the flat surface on the cutting board, cut into slices and cut each slice into half-inch cubes.
  3. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the leeks and cook, stirring, until slightly softened, two to three minutes.
  4. Add the squash cubes, water, salt and pepper. Stir, cover and let cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Cut the ham steak into quarter-inch cubes. Add to the leek and squash mixture.
  6. Make the bread cubes: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the loaf of bread into nine slices. Take a pile of three slices and make four cuts in each direction to create cubes. Repeat with the other two piles.
  7. Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet. Toast for 10 minutes. Stir, and toast an additional 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
  8. Make the custard: Whisk together all ingredients.
  9. Assemble: In a large mixing bowl, combine the filling, bread cubes and custard. Let sit for 15 minutes, stirring twice. Taste the custard. Adjust seasoning as desired.
  10. Turn the bread pudding into a greased, 9-by-13-inch glass casserole dish. Dot with chèvre.
  11. Bake for one hour and 15 minutes, until the custard is set and the top has browned.
  12. Let cool before cutting.

Buttercup Squash and Brussels Sprouts With Spiced Honey-Cider Syrup and Strained Yogurt

Ingredients:

For the strained yogurt*:

  • 1 carton whole-milk yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 10 grinds pepper

For the roasted squash:

  • 1 small buttercup squas
  • Smidgen of oil
  • Sprinkle of salt and pepper

For the honey-cider syrup:

  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

For the Brussels sprouts:

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Sprinkle of salt and pepper

Preparation:

  1. Make the strained yogurt: Line a colander with cheesecloth, a clean kitchen towel or paper towels. Dump in the yogurt. Cover and let drain for at least four hours, up to overnight.
  2. Turn the thickened yogurt out of the colander into a bowl. Stir in the oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Make the squash: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove the squash stem, cut squash in half, scoop out the seeds and peel. With the flat side on the cutting board, cut each half into slices and each slice into cubes. Toss cubes with oil, salt and pepper.
  4. Spread cubes on a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, stirring after 15. If you think they'll be done sooner, check them sooner! Hold in a warm place.
  5. Make the syrup: While the squash is cooking, combine syrup ingredients in a small saucepan. Simmer until reduced to a syrupy texture (the liquid will coat the back of a spoon). Remove from heat.
  6. Make the Brussels sprouts: Cut the bottom of the sprout stems and peel away the outer layer of leaves. Cut each sprout in half, then cut each half into thin shreds.
  7. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When hot and foamy, add the sprouts and cook, stirring, until just tender.
  8. Assemble: Place the sprouts on a platter and put the squash cubes on top. Drop on spoonfuls of yogurt, and drizzle the syrup over the top.

*If you prefer, you can use any type of fresh cheese in place of the strained yogurt.

Arugula Salad with Delicata, Pear, Parmesan and Caramelized-Onion Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

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For the caramelized-onion vinaigrette:

  • 1 large onion
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 grinds pepper
  • ½ cup plus ⅓ cup Champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup sunflower oil
  • 1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 15 grinds pepper

For the pear:

  • 2 Bosc pears
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • Sprinkle of salt

For the roasted squash with Parmesan:

  • 1 delicata squash
  • Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • ½ pound Parmesan

For the salad:

  • Arugula

Preparation:

  1. Make the vinaigrette: Peel the onion, cut in half and, with the flat side on the cutting board, slice as thinly as you can.
  2. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When hot and foamy, add the onion, salt and pepper. Cook on very low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes. The onions will soften and release their liquid, which will begin to brown on the bottom of the pan.
  3. When the sticky brown layer (fond) has built up on the pan, add 1/4 cup vinegar to "deglaze." Stir until all the browned bits have come up.
  4. Let the brown layer form again.
  5. Deglaze a second time, but this time remove from heat.
  6. Combine the onions with all other ingredients (including the remaining 1/3 cup of vinegar) and purée. If you have an immersion blender, that's the best choice. If not, a blender or food processor will work.
  7. Make the pear: Using an apple corer, core the pears. (You'll need to cut off the top of the pear to do so; otherwise the fruit will be too tall.)
  8. Cut the pears into doughnut-shaped slices.
  9. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When hot, sprinkle the pear slices with salt and cook until brown on one side. Flip and brown on the other side. Remove from heat.
  10. Make the squash: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  11. Cut the delicata in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. With the flat side on the cutting board, cut each half into half-inch half-moons. (The skin stays on.)
  12. Toss the delicata with oil, salt and pepper to taste. Place in one layer on baking sheet.
  13. Cook 15 minutes. Meanwhile, grate the Parmesan. Remove squash slices from oven and turn them (tongs work well for this task).
  14. Return the squash to the oven and bake five more minutes. Remove from oven, and turn the broiler on high.
  15. Pile the Parmesan on top of the squash. Some will be touching the pan, and that's just fine.
  16. Put under the broiler. Leave the oven door open so you can watch the action and make sure nothing burns. When the cheese is browned and bubbly, remove pan from the oven and set aside.
  17. Assemble: Toss arugula with caramelized-onion vinaigrette to taste.
  18. Garnish with pear and squash.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Playing Squash"

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