Do you remember the scene in Forrest Gump where Bubba is describing all of the ways to prepare shrimp? Shrimp kabobs, shrimp Creole, pan-fried shrimp…That is how I feel about winter squash. Winter squash roasted, pureed, in a pie, bread, soup, pancakes, casserole, latte, curry. Its perfect silky-smooth texture easily walks the line between sweet and savory.

    Whether from a farmer’s market, the grocery store, or your own garden, winter squash is a staple, hearty enough to provide the structure for any meal. When selecting your squash, no matter the variety, look for a firm skin, free of soft or blackened spots. These can indicate impending rot, a nasty surprise at the start of any recipe. Don’t concern yourself, however, with a few blemishes. Winter squash, when cured properly, can be stored for months, scars and all.

    When these splashes of fall color hit my kitchen counter, they carry a stalwart sense of impending winter with them. They are tough, rough, and irregular. They harbor none of the soft perfection of summer peaches, tomatoes, and zucchini. In contrast, they’ve set up their defenses in the form of thick skin, tempered by the sun, ready to stave off moisture, rough handling, and the effects of time to last the through the winter.

    To break this barrier, I roll the irregular surface between my hands, finding the most stable spot for a sturdy knife to rest. I bring my knife down decisively with a resounding ‘thwack.’ From here, steady pressure generally yields two equal halves. Although this sounds like an excerpt from an adolescent fantasy novel battle scene, I assure you it is all buttery softness from here on out.

    Once the squash is open, I use an ice cream scoop to scrape out pulp and seeds. Then, simply roast the squash at 400 degrees, cut side down on a baking sheet. Cooking times will vary wildly based on squash size, so simply poke it and when the flesh yields significantly to your finger and the edges are caramelizing into sticky brownness, it is done.

    Although I love all types of winter squash, in the recipes below, I focus on those with thick, sunset-orange flesh such as pumpkins, red kuri, kabocha and butternut.

    All day long, from breakfast to dinner, winter squash can have a home at your table.

Paleo Pumpkin Waffles

INGREDIENTS

12 eggs, separated

⅓ cup melted butter

1 cup pumpkin puree

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 ½ cups blanched almond flour

1 cup tapioca flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons ground ginger

3 teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Pinch of ground cloves

½ teaspoon allspice

METHOD

Start preheating your waffle iron. Separate your eggs. Whip the egg whites with the whisk attachment of a mixer until stiff peaks form. Mix the wet ingredients together. Mix the dry ingredients together (I’ve been known to do this on top of the wet ingredients to save dishes). Combine the wet and dry ingredients together. Stir about ⅓ of the whipped egg whites gently into the batter to lighten it. Fold the rest of the egg whites into the batter with a gentle up and down motion. It is OK to have white streaks – don’t over mix. Cook as usual in your waffle iron. Delicious served with warm applesauce or butter and maple syrup.

Roasted Squash Salad with Bacon and Caramelized Onion  (serves 4 as a main dish)

INGREDIENTS

About 3 ½ – 4 pounds (starting weight) orange-fleshed

winter squash (kabocha or sugar pumpkin are nice here),

peeled and cut into approximately ½-inch cubes

3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

¼ cup pumpkin seeds (you can clean and roast the seeds

from your pumpkin) or pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled

Sea salt and black pepper

2 tablespoons butter or bacon fat

1 yellow onion, roughly chopped

3-4 slices bacon, cut crosswise into small strips

4 ounces fresh goat cheese (chevre)

Salad greens of your choice (mixed greens, spinach and

arugula all work)

Dressing:

6 roasted garlic cloves (from above)

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

5 tablespoons good olive oil

2 tablespoons bacon fat from the pan

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon honey

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

METHOD  

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut your onion and get it in a pan on low heat with 2 tablespoons of bacon fat or butter (about 30 minutes). Cook it, stirring occasionally until the onions are completely wilted and browning. Stir onions and keep the heat low so they do not burn. On one or two large, rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment, toss the squash cubes with melted coconut oil and salt and pepper. Put the garlic cloves on one corner of one of the sheets. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the squash cubes are tender and starting to brown. Pull the garlic cloves off the baking sheet after 20 minutes of baking and let them cool so you can handle them.

While the pumpkin bakes, cook the bacon and prepare the rest of the salad. I like to serve this on a wide, rimmed platter. Make a bed of greens then sprinkle on the pumpkin seeds, cheese, onions (when done), and cooked bacon. You will put the squash on last.

Make the dressing. Cut the root end off of the roasted garlic and squeeze out the garlicky goodness into your container (a pint mason jar works well). Add the rest of the dressing ingredients and blend it all with a hand blender or dump mixture into a regular blender and puree.

When the squash is done, drizzle the dressing on top. Then top them with the still-warm roasted squash. Serve immediately.

Butternut Squash and Sage Lasagna

INGREDIENTS

3 ½ – 4 pounds butternut squash (one really big one or two

smaller ones. Look for squash with big, straight necks for the

“noodles”)

1-1 ½ teaspoons sea salt (it depends upon how salty your

ricotta is)

¾ teaspoon pepper

1 pound whole milk ricotta

½ cup heavy cream

2 eggs

½ pound mozzarella cheese, grated

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup packed fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped

1 cup chicken stock (vegetable stock will work to make this a

vegetarian dish)

½ cup drained capers

4 oz. finely grated Parmesan cheese

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the “bulb” end off of your butternut(s). Peel both halves and deseed the bulb end. Cut the “neck” of the squash in half lengthwise. With the newly cut side down on your board, carefully cut ⅛-inch thick slices (a knife that is truly sharp is really helpful for this). These are your “noodles.” Lay these out on two parchment-lined baking sheets (no oil needed) and bake for approximately 30 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through. Meanwhile, cut the bulb end into approximately one inch cubes and roast them either at the same time or as soon as the noodles are done. They should take about 30 minutes as well. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees when they come out.

While all of this squash roasting is going on, make your cheese mixture. Combine the ricotta, mozzarella, two eggs, nutmeg, cream, and salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Melt the butter in a small skillet. Fry the sage leave in the butter until they just start turning brown (3-4 minutes).

Take one cup of the roasted squash cubes and smash them into a rough paste with the back of a spoon. Add the smashed squash and an additional cup of unsmashed squash cubes to the cheese mixture. Add the chicken stock and melted butter/sage goodness to the cheese mixture.

Now you are ready to assemble. Butter a 9×13 baking dish. Lay one layer of squash “noodles” on the bottom. Top with half of the cheese mixture and half of the capers. Repeat with another layer of noodles, cheese, and capers. Top with a final layer of squash noodles and the grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until set. You may see a little liquid around the edges. That is okay. Let the lasagna sit for 10 minutes before serving and it will be all firmed up. Pair this with a fresh salad with a nice acidic dressing (to cut the richness of the cheese) and dinner is served.

Hopefully, you agree with me that winter squash deserves a place at any meal, and can seep into the cracks of your culinary life with ease. I think Bubba would. 4