What's In Season
Market Hall Produce Buyer Jan Newberry
on the fall/winter harvest 2015
We've Got a Crush on Squash
Autumn is an interesting time in the Bay Area. October brings some of the warmest temperatures of the year, yet the change in the light and shift in time make it clear that summer is over.
At Market Hall Produce we know that fall has come when the hard-shell squash arrive. Our selection of tomatoes grows smaller while pears, persimmons and pomegranates move into the places previously occupied by corn and zucchini. Soon the local citrus will be here.
Why Winter Squash?
The interesting thing about winter squash is that, in a sense, it’s summer squash—grown all summer and harvested in the fall. We like to think that the joyful summer sun has entered the fruit (yes, squash is technically a fruit) and is waiting inside—orange and glowing—to warm and gladden you all winter long.
Indeed, winter squash is practically bursting with nutrients that speak to its long days basking in the sun. It is rich in carotenoids and is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, folic acid, B-complex vitamins, manganese and iron. These offer, among other benefits, antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
How to Choose
Our bin of winter squash is a collection of oddly shaped gourds in shades of green, gold, orange, and butter-yellow that mimic the kind of autumn foliage we don’t see much of around here (though no one complains about that on a sunny, 70-degree day). According to Market Hall Produce manager, Gabriel Villanueva, the flavor differences between the winter varieties are too subtle to matter much in recipes; you can use them interchangeably.
We typically carry up to nine varieties of winter squash, including acorn, buttercup, butternut, carnival, delicata, kabocha, sugar pie pumpkins, red kuri, and sweet dumpling. Choose winter squash that is heavy for its size. The shell should be firm, with no cracks, bruises, or signs of decay. Stored at cool room temperature, winter squash will keep for several months.
How to Cut
Cooking these winter squashes is easy—the most difficult part is cutting them open. Their odd shapes, large size, and hard shells make them challenging to work with.
Acorn, buttercup, carnival, and sweet dumpling squash are all similar in size. The best way to handle these is to slice off both the stem and the blossom ends, making a flat surface on which to rest the squash. Cut the squash in half, vertically, from top to bottom; scrape out the seeds with spoon; and either roast the halves or cut them into slices before cooking. Don’t even try to peel these. Cook them with the skin intact and then just scoop out the flesh.
Cut butternut squash in half horizontally, separating the neck from the bulb. Slice the neck piece however you like, then cut the bulb in half and scrape out the seeds. Delicata squash are by far the easiest to handle. These tend to be small—about 12 ounces—with thin, edible skins that are easy to slice through and don’t need to be peeled.
Kabocha and red kuri squash and sugar pie pumpkins can be a little more challenging to handle. These large squash have tough skins and uneven shapes that require more caution when cutting into. Use a heavy chef’s knife with at least an 8-inch long blade. Cut a slice from both top and bottom, making a flat surface on which to rest the squash. Cut the squash in half, vertically, from top to bottom. Tap the knife handle gently with a mallet if it gets stuck. If you want to peel the squash, use a knife. A vegetable peeler simply isn’t up to the task.
How to Cook
Brown sugar and maple syrup are popular accompaniments to these orange-fleshed squash, but the vegetable’s natural sweetness also goes well with many savory flavors. Think sage and garlic, hot chilies and curries, coconut milk and fresh ginger. Any of these combinations would make a terrific soup or squash gratin.