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Thursday, August 11

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The cool breezes, the leaves falling from the trees, the arrival of butternut squash at grocery stores (and appearing in co-op food boxes): these are the early signs of Autumn. And it's making me happy.

Squash is great. It is easy to cook, easy to flavor, a complex carbohydrate, high in fiber, and a great source of Vitamin C, beta-carotene and many other vitamins and minerals. And it's cheap, too. Always a plus.

So I bought a large, beautiful butternut squash and began looking for innovative ways to use it. And guess what? I came across a lot of recipes for roasted squash, squash soup and butternut squash ravioli with sage butter. And, well, I wanted something different. So I kept thinking and reading and searching and decided that I had a few flavors to experiment with that might actually work well with butternut squash. I wanted to get several meals out of one squash, and I exceeded my expectations.

I started by cutting a 5lb. butternut squash in half lengthwise. Then I scooped out the seeds and placed it cut-side up on a baking sheet in an oven set at 425° F and let it roast for about 40 minutes. After I removed it from the oven and let it cool to the touch, I scooped the pulp out of the skin and set it aside so I could sample it with a few different flavor combinations.

I think one of the easiest ways to figure out what else will go well with a dominant ingredient is to figure out what the main tastes are. Butternut squash is mildly sweet and slightly nutty-flavored. Then I try to figure out what will contrast that flavor in a complementary way. Sweet and nutty contrasted by tart and sharp in this case. Since I knew I'd be making a soup, and since a creamy soup is always great, I wanted something that would add creaminess to the soup as well as some tanginess. Greek yogurt came to mind. Sour cream is the common addition to butternut soup and would also work.

I then began thinking of herbs and flavorings that go well with Greek yogurt. Dill came to mind immediately. Yogurt and dill, especially tart yogurt, are a great combination. I also wanted something that would give the soup a hearty, caramel-like flavor; since I'm fond of caramelized onions, I thought that might be a good start to the soup.

But I knew this would only take up half of my very large squash, so I set about figuring out what else would match the butternut but still be different. While doing research, I discovered that a number of winter squashes originated in Mexico. Which got me to thinking about what else originated in Mexico, so I decided I would make a variation on an enchilada. Then I remembered a dish I'd had at Cafe 28 many, many years ago. There was a sweet potato puree that had peppers mixed in and a thick-cut pork chop sitting on top of it. Pureed butternut squash could easily stand in for sweet potato, and I decided that a couple of pork tenderloin medallions might be just as tasty as a pork chop, and much easier and faster to cook.

With my cooked squash cooling on the counter, I assembled my ingredients for three tasty dishes.

Butternut Squash Soup with Dill and Greek Yogurt
1 large sweet onion
1 carrot
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
2.5 pound of cook or uncooked butternut squash
1 quart of chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 of a bunch of dill (about 1/4 cup when chopped)
1 teaspoon of salt, or to taste
8 ounces of Greek yogurt

Place a stockpot over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Slice the onion into thin slices. Peel the carrot and slice it on an angle to get long slices. Add the onions and carrot to the stockpot and stir to coat with the oil. Let the onion and carrot cook, stirring occasionally, for about 7-10 minutes or until the onions are toasted and brown. Scrape the contents into a food processor and add two peeled and trimmed cloves of garlic. Pulse several times until the ingredients are chopped fine. Dump it back into the stockpot and let it cook on a very low heat to release some of the flavor from the garlic, but not so high that the garlic burns and becomes bitter. Stir it frequently. Remove the cooked butternut squash from the skin and place it in the food processor. Add about 1 cup of broth to make it easier to puree. Once the puree seems smooth, add the dill and the salt and pulse several times to combine. Pour the contents into the stockpot. Add the rest of the broth and stir to combine. Let it cook for about 30 minutes. Stir in the Greek yogurt, taste to see if more salt or pepper is needed. Dish and serve. This would go great with a Greek salad with feta cheese and olives in a vinagrette, with garlic crostini, or with a toasted cheese sandwich.
Serves 4-6.

Butternut Squash Enchilada Pie
1 to 1.5 pounds of butternut squash, roasted and removed from the skin
2 tablespoons of canned arbol or chipotle peppers
1/2 to 3/4 cup of chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 pound of ground turkey, beef or soyrizo
4 teaspoons of cumin
1/2 teaspoon of chile powder
1 teaspoon of ground coriander
1 small onion
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 corn or flour tortillas
6 ounces of Mexican anejo cheese, shredded

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Remove the roasted squash from the skin and place it in a food processor. Add the peppers and pulse a few times. Add enough of the broth until the puree moves freely in the processor. Set it to puree and let it run for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture is smooth. Pour it into a saucepan and set it on low heat so the liquid can evaporate but the contents won't stick to the bottom of the pan. Stir frequently.

Place a skillet over medium heat and add the ground turkey, cumin, chile powder, coriander, onion and olive oil. Use a spatula or spoon to break up the turkey and blend the flavorings into it until it is cooked. Stir continuously for about 5 minutes, or until the turkey is cooked through. Turn off the heat and set it aside to cool. Grease a round casserole dish that is about the same size as your tortillas. Place a tortilla on the bottom and add about 1/2 cup of the squash puree on top of it. Make sure to spread it to the edges. Sprinkle one-fourth of the turkey over top and top with one-fourth of the cheese. Repeat until you've covered your fourth tortilla. (You should have 2-4 cups of squash puree remaining. Save it for the next recipe.) Place the dish in the center of your oven and let it bake for about 30 minutes. Once the cheese has melted and started to turn golden brown on top, remove it from the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes to solidify. Use a sharp knife to cut it into wedges.
Makes 6-8 servings.

Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Squash Puree
2 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick pork tenderloin slices
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1/4 cup of dry sherry
2 tablespoon of fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 cups of butternut puree from the previous recipe

Rinse the pork slices and pat dry with paper towel. Place in a small plastic bag. In a small bowl, combine the minced garlic, ground cumin, dried oregano, salt, pepper, sherry and lime juice. Stir until well blended and pour into the plastic bag that holds the pork. Seal it closed and let it rest in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours. Turn the bag over every few hours. Pour the butternut puree into a small saucepan and place it over low heat without a lid. This will permit the puree to evaporate slightly to create a thicker mixture. Place your skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Once it comes up to temperature, carefully shake the tenderloin pieces in the bag, then take them out and place them in the skillet. (You may want to use a splatter screen to cover your skillet.) Let the tenderloin cook for about 2 minutes on the first side and a minute and a half on the second side. The pork should register around 160° on a meat thermometer (as long as it's above 145° you're probably OK) or it should be just cooked all the way through; feel free to make a small incision on the top to see the interior of the meat if you're unsure. Place 1 cup of the butternut puree in the middle of the plate and place the tenderloin medallions directly on top of it. Place a serving of green beans that have been steamed and dressed with a squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkle of salt and pepper on the side.
Makes 2 servings.

I bought a large butternut squash and got enough meals out of it to make three different dinners for two and several other days' worth of leftovers. And I'm delighted by these leftovers. The soup will get more dilly, and the enchiladas will get spicier as they sit in the fridge for a few days. Squash is such an easy ingredient to cook, and it is so easy to get it to take on a variety of flavors. Feel free to share your favorite squash recipes in the comments.

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Winediva / October 15, 2007 12:41 PM

Hey Cinnamon,

Just curious - have you ever had a problem handling butternut squash? Its weird, my sister in law and I have some kind of wacky reaction when touching butternut squash. It makes our skin kinda raw and peel off our fingers or anywhere we have touched it. We can eat squash just fine and handle lots of other squash no problem. I know its not anything to do with waxes or coating, cause it happens with the squash from my organic co-op as well. Ever heard of this? Or are we just simple freaks of nature?

Cinnamon / October 16, 2007 12:25 AM

Ah, Winediva, sounds like you have a pretty typical case of Cucurbita moschata dermititis. Which means that you have an allergy to the peel of butternut squash that manifests wherever your skin touches the sap. Wearing rubber gloves and peeling the squash with a knife instead of a vegetable peeler should keep the sap from irritating you.

I have the same reaction to mango skin. Although I have no reaction to the fruit itself.

Nora Rocket / October 16, 2007 2:29 PM

Cinnamon Cooper: she'll make you dinner *and* have a look at that rash. A woman of many talents! What a gal, I tells ya!

Squash Lover / October 16, 2007 11:07 PM

Moosewood has a variation using yams (I substitute butternut squash) blended with a can of black beans. Throw in some mushrooms and onions cooked in cumin, roll it all in a tortilla, bake and you've got a great vegan, low-fat burrito!

Magda / October 17, 2007 3:59 PM

Mangos are closely related to poison ivy. That's why many people are allergic to the oils in the skin of otherwise innocent mangos.

Winediva / October 22, 2007 1:24 PM

Wow. Who knew. Makes me want to produce a Discovery Channel - type show. "When Squash Attacks". Or "Deadly Fruit."

Joe / November 22, 2007 10:54 AM

Perhaps also relevant to negative reactions to mango is its relationship to the cashew (and thus people who may have nut allergies). They're both in the family Anacardiaceae (as well as Poison Ivy).


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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