Gourd intentions

Categories: Expert guidance

Jenny Chandler on how she’ll be making the most of squash season

Portrait: Kim Lightbody

It’s that ghoulish time of year again. There are already mountains of huge orange pumpkins piled up in the shops just asking to be carved into the traditional Halloween jack o’ lanterns. To be honest, these monsters of the vegetable world don’t offer much in terms of texture or flavour, they tend to be rather watery and bland, but thrown in a soup with plenty of gutsy flavours they will do well enough. It’s the smaller varieties of the Cucurbita family that offer the most delicious possibilities.

In summer we have the patty pan squash, courgettes and marrows, but once the colder weather sets in we can turn to their thicker-skinned cousins, which keep well into the winter months. The shelves at Borough’s greengrocers are packed to tumbling point with vivid orange onion squash, deep green turbans and deeply ridged acorn squash. But what to do with these autumnal beauties?

The creamy texture of squash makes them ideal for soups, stews and curries. I often toss some cubes of pumpkin, butternut or onion squash into a casserole or ragout along with my onions, carrot and celery. The flesh will soften and eventually collapse, thickening the juices in the pot without having to use any flour. It’s not a question of creating a gluten-free dish for me (although that’s an obvious bonus for all those with a wheat intolerance); it’s the glorious creaminess the squash gives. There’s also the upside of colour, nutritional value and sweetness, too.

Meal in a bowl
Some of the more exotic looking squash such as crown prince, green onion or acorn squash present the cook with quite a problem. Their incredibly tough skin, ridged shape or small size make them virtually impossible to peel. I suggest cutting these into wedges and roasting with the skin on (it can easily be removed later, before serving or adding to soups). Roasting enhances the subtle flavour of the pumpkin and is a good place to start when making purées as side dishes, to add to soups, or for use in tarts and baking.

A squash or pumpkin soup certainly requires a bit of extra flavour and good seasoning but can be a truly scrumptious thing. I remember buying cut wedges of pumpkin in the markets in Italy back in my boat chef days and making them into a silky pumpkin and rosemary soup with plenty of parmesan. In their homeland of Mexico and the southern US, squash are often cooked with chilli, cumin and fresh coriander. One of my favourite, meal-in-a-bowl soups is a black bean, corn and squash soup served with lashings of sour cream and guacamole.

Americans enjoy pumpkins in lots of desserts and breads: you can even buy cans of cooked pumpkin mush, ready sweetened and spiced for their much-celebrated Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. I like to throw some grated squash into muffins and bakes of the carrot cake ilk, giving moisture, colour and a sense of something vaguely healthy going on.

So, get squashing: a spaghetti squash, with its long pasta like strands, can make an unusual salad or side dish. You could try Sicilia- style sweet and sour pumpkin and red onions, or quite simply add a few cubes to the roast veg with your next Sunday roast.