What’s in Season: Squash Racket

Winter squash? Hold on, you sputter into your poolside iced tea. Sun’s out, A/C’s on, shoes are off. An editorial error? A sadistic joke? Blame it on that old scapegoat, the Past. Back when eating seasonally was a necessity and not a choice, winter squash was harvested in late summer/early fall and stored through winter. The hard, protective skins of hubbards, butternuts, acorns, and spaghettis (and myriad other types) kept their flesh moist and fresh for months.

       Unlike summer squashes like zucchini and pattypan, winter varieties are harvested when fully mature. And unlike them, they must be cooked. Roasting is my method of choice; steaming or microwaving may be faster, but what you gain in time you lose in velvet caramelization. Puréed and frozen, winter squash will be convenient sustenance all winter long. Nutritious sustenance, too: the bright orange flesh is a furnace of beta-carotene, complex carbs, and fiber.

       The menu blazes with it in many guises at Café of Love (38 E Main St, Mount Kisco 914-242-1002; cafeofloveny.com). Chef Michael Cutney features it in butternut squash gnocchi, in blue hubbard soup spiced with coriander, cumin, and cinnamon, in Harvest Celebration soup redolent of sweet potato and apple. “Winter squash has so many applications,” he says. “It encompasses the feeling of autumn, the nostalgia of being a kid in a pumpkin patch, of Halloween. You can’t duplicate this warmth of cooking in any other season.” His passion even extends to dessert; there’s a pumpkin upside-down cake studded with dried cranberries, pecans, and salted caramel.

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       Cutney’s major squash crush is blue hubbard—“it’s really sweet,” he gushes—but all are equal when it comes to selecting. Choose squash with a smooth, dry, and dull rind—shiny skin means they’ve been picked too early or are wax-coated—and make sure stems are firm and dry. Store them in a cool, dry place and they’ll provide sustenance as long, lovely, and comforting as the season itself.

Spiced Blue Hubbard Soup
Courtesy of Michael Cutney, Café Of Love
(serves 8)

1 five-lb blue hubbard squash (cut lengthwise, seeds removed)
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 medium onions, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 tsp toasted, ground black peppercorns (see note*)
½ tsp toasted, ground cumin seed
½ tsp toasted, ground fennel seed
½ tsp toasted, ground coriander seed
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cinnamon
5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
¼ cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
salt to taste
½ cup crushed amaretto cookies,
    for garnish

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line sheet pan with parchment or foil and brush squash flesh with olive oil. Place squash flesh-side down and roast until soft, about 45 minutes. Let cool and scrape flesh from skin. You should have about 6 cups of squash.

In a 4-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, and garlic and cook about 5 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent browning. Add spices and cook another minute, stirring constantly.

Add stock, roasted squash, and sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook about 20 minutes.

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Carefully transfer soup in batches to a food processor or blender and purée until smooth. Return soup to saucepan. Add cream and cook over low heat, 5 minutes. Add salt to taste. Garnish with amaretto crumbs and serve.

*Note: To toast whole spices, heat saucepan over medium heat, add spices, and toast until lightly browned and fragrant. Cool and process in spice grinder.

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