Well, it got pretty darn chilly today! We went from a warm week to unseasonably cool temperatures. This morning I opted to go for a bike ride but I soon learned I need some proper cool weather cycling clothes!
I spent the day working, studying, and baking a wonderfully homey apple cake with a cider sauce. It’s definitely making its way into my second cookbook (and if you want to be a tester for it, let me know).
Last year, I wrote an article for the Standard on squash. I’ve never really liked squash and wanted to figure out ways to love it! It turns out I do love it… specifically in these recipes.
I love anything Thai curry, and the macaroni bake is reminiscent of a good ol’ baked mac and cheese. The stuffed squash makes a perfect, but simple, side dish.
Here’s the article, published in the Standard in the fall of 2010.
Chances are, someone has told you how “picky” they are. “I don’t like vegetables,” they’ll tell you, turning up their nose, further indicating their distaste. “They just don’t taste good.”
Although these veg-defiant words tug at my veg-loving heartstrings, my brain knows better. I’m convinced that if you “don’t like vegetables,” you just haven’t been properly introduced to the culinary techniques that accentuate their flavour. While “boiled spinach” doesn’t sound like an outright appealing side dish, a creamy caramelized onion spinach dip with freshly toasted pita bread sounds like an appetizer sure to please.
Okay, okay. I’ll admit it. There is a vegetable (although technically a fruit) that I don’t readily consume. The thought of choosing it for my weekly menu seldom comes to mind. It’s not that I dislike it. But I don’t love it, either. Sorry, squash, but roasting you in the oven with herbs and spice just doesn’t please my palate.
Until now. See, I thought I would sacrifice my stomach for a few weeks of squash sampling. I made it my mission this year to love squash. Something about its rich beta-carotene flesh beckoned me. “Try me. You’ll like me.” Like luring me with its lusciousness, it knew it could sell me. And it did … for good reason.
Not only have I learned how to make it taste outright delicious, it also has so many nutritional benefits that you’ll want to make it part of your daily rotation while it’s still in season. Squash is rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants, which help neutralize dangerous free radicals and fight cell damage, which can decrease the chances of inflammation and cancer. It also delivers a healthy dose of fibre, with about 6 grams per one cup (250 ml) cooked, along with about 32% of your daily vitamin C needs.
But that’s not all. Like carrots, it is the orange flesh of squash that has the health benefits to highlight. Caroteniods — and in this case, beta-carotene — has been shown to protect against heart disease. Our body automatically converts beta-carotene to vitamin A, which has also been linked to fighting breast cancer and macular degeneration, and supporting lung development in newborns.
It’s also a very good source of potassium and manganese. Potassium helps our muscles and nerves properly function and maintains the proper electrolyte and acid-base balance in our bodies. It also helps keep high blood pressure at bay. Manganese, on the other hand, helps our body utilize many nutrients, keeps our bones strong and healthy, and promotes proper thyroid function.
And I’ve since learned, squash tastes great, too. The proof lies in the preparation. With the right tools, ingredients, and a creativity to cook them, you’ll like the vegetables that once turned up your nose. The secret to loving squash, I found, is simple: don’t roast it, don’t steam it, don’t mash it. But even more important, don’t just sneak it into something else and call it a day. Make it the main event, letting its flavour shine right through.
Like a contestant on Iron Chef, I experimented with highlighting this malicious marrow and not taking the easy route by pureeing it into a muffin batter or hiding it in a pot pie. Instead, I used my favourite ingredients to bring forth a flavour that I never knew existed. The combination of creamy coconut milk with spicy curry paste brings butternut squash to a whole new level. Nutty cashew butter and whole grain macaroni makes for a buttercup casserole that I’ll make again and again. Roasted garlic, fresh thyme and crunchy hemp seeds deliver a delicate flavour to delicata. And a shortbread base with buttery pecans brings a whole new meaning to a pumpkin dessert. The best part? They are all super easy.
This is squash, uncensored. And you’re going to love it.
Thai Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Soup
So simple, so delicious. Roast the squash in advance for a soup that comes together in under half an hour. If you love spicy foods, add as much curry paste as you can handle.
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
2 small onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
2 medium butternut squash, roasted, peeled and seeded
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
4 to 6 cups water
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 14 ounce (398 ml) can lite organic coconut milk
Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onions and cook until softened, about five minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and let cook an additional one to two minutes, until fragrant.
Scoop the butternut squash into the pot. Stir to mix with the onion mixture, mixing well. Stir in the curry paste, salt, and top with water. Mix well until the curry paste has dissolved. You want just enough water to not quite cover the squash. Add the maple syrup. Mix well. Mash with a fork until almost smooth.
Cover and let simmer about 15 minutes. Remove lid and add the coconut milk. Using an immersion blender, insert the blender and puree until smooth. If you do not have an immersion blender, transfer batches of the soup into a blender or food processor (tip: leave the lid ajar to prevent the heat from breaking the glass or plastic). Season with salt to taste. Add additional curry paste if you like it really spicy.
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Baked Buttercup Macaroni
This baked casserole is reminiscent of mac-and-cheese, with a rich, nutty sauce encasing hearty macaroni and a crispy topping. Serve alongside sauted rapini or kale, and a few scoops of homemade cranberry sauce.
2 cups dry organic brown rice macaroni (Tinkyada)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium buttercup squash, roasted, seeded and peeled (about 2 cups (480mL) mashed)
1/4 cup ( cashew butter
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 1/2 tablespoon sweet rice flour
3/4 teaspoon ground sage
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2 to 4 tablespoons water or nondairy milk (as needed)
3 tablespoons finely chopped pecans
2 tablespoons flaxmeal
Cook the macaroni to al dente, according to the package directions. Drain well. Use one tablespoon (15 ml) of the oil to grease a 9-inch square glass baking dish. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
Heat the remaining oil in a skillet. Add the onion and cook on medium-low heat, stirring often, until caramelized, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the squash, cashew butter, nutritional yeast, sweet rice flour, sage, garlic powder, nutmeg, salt and pepper into a food processor. Process until smooth, adding water or milk if the mixture is very thick. It should be about the consistency of a thick sauce.
In a small bowl, stir together the pecans and flaxmeal.
Add the macaroni to the prepared dish. Mix with the squash mixture. Top with the pecan/flax mixture.
Bake for 30 minutes, until lightly browned and crisp on top. Let cool five minutes before serving.
Twice Baked Stuffed Delicata Squash
Delicata squash is also known as sweet potato squash, for its flavour similar to our favourite sweet spud. Use this as a base recipe for your favourite herbs and spices.
2 small delicata squash
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 to 5 cloves garlic, halved
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
2 teaspoons hemp seeds
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh lemon wedges, for serving
Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Cut each squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Use two tablespoons (30 ml) of the oil to brush each half with. Divide the garlic in each of the cavities. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in until tender, about 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, use the remaining oil to sauté the shallots. Set aside. When squash is finished baking, remove the garlic and set aside. Use a spoon to carefully remove the innards from the squash, leaving a thin layer inside two of the shells (you will only be using two of them). Place the innards in a bowl. Mix with shallots, nutritional yeast and thyme. Taste for seasonings. Add salt and pepper if desired.
If you like it garlicky, finely chop the reserved garlic (or a portion of it) and add it to the mix. Spoon the mixture back into the two squash shells that have the thin layer. Discard the other two.
Sprinkle with hemp seeds. Return to oven and bake until innards are firm and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Serve with fresh lemon.