Bastard Squash Makes Good
As nights turn nippy, mornings are mysterious, cloaked in cloud as the marine layer snuggles down to the ground. The little garden plot I’ve been sharing (sort of) lies empty, with a cover crop of crimson clover and winter rye just starting to sprout. Afternoons are still warm enough to encourage the cool season vegetables ripening in another shared garden across town. Though inconvenient to have to drive to do any gardening, it’s always intriguing to observe how various plants behave in different locations.
All summer, I’ve been watching a mystery squash that appeared without being planted. We eventually decided that a squash seed must have been lurking in the compost we spread in late spring. The garden owners don’t like squash and never eat it, but the family matriarch does and though she has moved far away, her legacy squash remained. The strong stems wandered around the other crops and clambered up the garden fence, where the plump squash hung like little green lanterns. The squashes are flattened rounds, with dark green, slighted ridged skins. I had to wear gloves to cut them, as the stout stems bristled with sharp little spines. They looked a lot like the Japanese Kabocha squash, which is very sweet and flavorful, and I was eager to try this unknown offspring.
I hacked one open with some difficulty, as the rind was very hard indeed. It held a small amount of seeds in the midst of dense, yellow flesh. I roasted half the squash and skinned and diced the rest. Sadly, whether roasted or baked or steamed and mashed, the flavor was unremarkable. That result was not entirely unexpected: because squash can cross pollinate with its relatives, the results from saved seeds can be great or disappointing. Even if you aren’t growing other squash family kin, your neighbors might be, and busy bees are no respecters of fences.
Happily, the remaining squash were gradually turning bright orange. If failed as food, they made fine pumpkins and my grandkids had a lovely time carving Halloween Jack-o-lanterns with their parents (a drill made short work of the dense skin). To my delight, I was soon gifted an assortment of handsome winter squashes with excellent flavors. I’ve been playing with recipes for weeks and after much fiddling have settled on a few new favorites. All are good but the savory flan is especially good (a sweet version is pretty not bad too).
Roasted Winter Squash
1 large winter squash
1 teaspoon avocado oil
Cut your squash in half, remove the seeds and goop, and roast it, cut side down, on a lightly oiled baking sheet at 400 degrees F until it slumps and is very tender (45-60 minutes, depending on size). Chop the flesh to use in lasagna, soups, or stews or scoop it into a bowl and use a stick (immersion) bender to make a smooth puree.
Roasted Squash & Green Tomatoes
2 tablespoons avocado or olive oil
4 cups chopped, cooked squash (1-inch cubes)
4 cups firm green tomatoes, cut in wedges
4 cups cauliflower, cut into florets
1 red onion, cut in 8 wedges
1 head garlic, cloves peeled (I used Georgia Crystal)
1 teaspoon sea salt (I use homemade garlic salt)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Divide oil and vegetables between two rimmed baking sheets and toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with salt and roast at 400 for 30 minutes. Turn vegetables with a spatula, return to oven and bake for 20-30 minutes more, until lightly caramelized and very tender. Serves 4-6.
A Wintery Flan
I recently enjoyed a pleasant squash flan at a very nice local restaurant and decided to recreate it at home. Try this with Buttercup or Kabocha squash or even Blue Jarrahdale; really, any winter type you have on hand will work and each will contribute its own flavor. I played around with various alternatives to come up with a non-dairy version that’s tasty and satisfying: hemp or soy milk work best in custards and baked dishes.
Some flan versions are so dressed up that you can’t even taste the squash. I prefer to use fewer ingredients and let the flavors sing more clearly, but if you want to gussy up your own version, add some crumbled blue cheese or sharp myzithra, chopped bacon
or flaked smoked salmon. To make a spicy-sweet dessert version, eliminate the onions and garlic and add some honey or maple syrup.
Savory Squash Flan With Toasted Nuts
(Dairy or Non-Dairy)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon butter OR avocado oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups cooked, pureed squash
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika OR ground pepper
5 eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups whole milk OR hemp milk
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or hazelnuts)
1 plump clove garlic, minced
2 green onions, very thinly sliced
With 1 teaspoon butter or oil, lightly grease a 2-quart, shallow baking dish, dust with cinnamon, set aside. In a bowl, combine squash puree, 1 tablespoon butter or oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, coriander, ginger, and paprika or pepper and stir to blend. Beat in eggs, add milk, stir well, set aside. In a wide, shallow pan, combine remaining butter or oil, onion, and remaining salt over medium heat and cook, stirring often, until tender and lightly golden. Stir onions into squash mixture, leaving some of the oil in the pan, then spoon squash mixture into prepared baking pan and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Add garlic and walnuts to oven-top pan, stir to coat and cook, stirring, over medium heat until nuts are crisp and garlic is golden, set aside. Bake flan at 400 for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 350 and bake until set and golden (45-50 minutes). Scatter nuts and sliced green onions over the top and serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 4-6.