Winter squash is the star of the produce bin at this time of year. It's colorful and wonderfully versatile in an array of recipes. Chefs use squash all kinds of ways--in ravioli, risottos, mousses, bisques and puddings.
Squash also has nutritional heft. With a healthful dose of fiber, vitamin A, traces of vitamin C and potassium, it's prominent on the anti-cancer food list. And half a cup of pureed butternut squash has only 40 calories.
Most squashes are interchangeable in recipes, with the exception of spaghetti squash and acorn squash. Spaghetti squash has thin strands like pasta; acorn is best baked and eaten from the shell rather than pureed.
Buy winter squash that's hard and heavy without cracks or soft decayed spots. You can bake or microwave squash until it's soft; it can also be steamed, sauteed or deep-fried. To bake a squash, simply cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and strings, brush the cut surfaces with oil or butter and place it on a baking sheet cut side up with a sprinkling of salt or sugar. Bake at 350 degrees until tender, usually 45 minutes to 1 hour. Once the squash is tender, spoon out the soft flesh and puree it.
Squash and Basil Pancakes
Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 20 minutes * Vegetarian
3 tablespoons butter
4 teaspoons finely minced shallots
1 cup pureed squash
6 tablespoons milk
2/3 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons finely minced basil leaves
* Heat 1 tablespoon butter in large nonstick pan over medium heat. When hot, add shallots. Cook until softened but not brown, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl. Add squash, eggs, milk, flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper to taste and basil. Stir until smooth.
* Use paper towel to wipe out pan. Heat 1/2 tablespoon butter in pan over medium heat, tipping pan to coat surface. Use 2 scant tablespoons batter for each pancake and use back of spoon to spread to 3-inch diameter. Cook until edges are lightly browned and surface has air bubbles, about 1 1/2 minutes. Use spatula to turn and cook until browned, about 1 minute more. Set aside on baking sheet to keep warm in 200-degree oven. Cook remaining pancakes, adding butter to pan as needed. (If desired, pancakes can be made a few hours ahead and kept at room temperature, lightly covered with foil. Before serving, place in single layer on greased pan. Reheat, uncovered, in 200-degree oven 6 minutes.)
4 servings of 3 (3-inch) pancakes. Each serving: 212 calories; 427 mg sodium; 133 mg cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 20 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 0.47 gram fiber.
Double-Baked Squash With Crunchy Onion Topping
Active Work Time: 25 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour * Vegetarian
3 cups pureed squash
1/4 cup light sour cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup finely minced onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Butter, for greasing
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon butter, melted
* Put squash, sour cream, cheese, egg, 3 tablespoons onion (reserve rest for topping), garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste in bowl of food processor and mix until smooth, 10 seconds. Transfer to greased 5-cup shallow baking dish. Smooth top.
* Toss together bread crumbs, butter, reserved onion and remaining salt. Adjust seasonings. Spread evenly over squash. (Can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Let come to room temperature before baking.)
* Bake at 350 degrees, uncovered, until edges are just beginning to brown and crumbs are golden, about 40 minutes. Serve hot.
6 servings. Each serving: 98 calories; 450 mg sodium; 44 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.62 gram fiber.
Southwestern Soup With Spaghetti Squash "Pasta"
Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 25 minutes * Vegetarian
The spicier this soup, the better. Add the chipotle puree a little at a time until your taste buds are satisfied.
1 tablespoon oil
1 large onion, minced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
4 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups cooked spaghetti squash strands
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 to 2 teaspoons pureed chipotle chiles packed in adobo sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
* Heat oil in 3-quart pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add broth, squash, tomatoes, beans, chiles and salt. Bring to boil. Simmer, covered, 5 minutes. (Can be made 2 days ahead and refrigerated.) To serve, stir in cilantro, taste and adjust seasonings.
8 to 10 servings. Each of 10 servings: 97 calories; 536 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 1.54 gram fiber.