To celebrate the run-up to Thanksgiving and, well, to celebrate my love of the stuff, I’ve decided I’m going to spend the next week talking about squash. I’ll share some of what I consider the more fascinating facts about squash, along with tips and recipes.
(A reminder if it’s been a long time since Bio 101: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species)
Most of the squash we eat in fact comes from a single species, Cucurbita pepo. Believe it or not, an acorn squash is the same species as a zucchini (despite their alphabetical separation). Some pumpkins are from this same species, though not all. Other C. pepo varieties include the delicata, the carnival squash (very similar to acorn), spaghetti squashes, and the various yellow squashes (straight or crookneck) you see described as “summer squash” in grocery stores.
It seems unlikely, doesn’t it? So much variety within a single species. It gets even weirder if you plant two varieties of the same species close to each other – there are some very strange hybrids out there, intentional and otherwise. (I’m not a botanist by any means, just a food nerd, and since plants make food, I’ve become kind of a plant nerd as well.)
Growers and grocers tend to break squash down into two categories: summer and winter. Summer squashes (crookneck, zucchini) have soft rinds and tend to be less sweet and more “vegetable” tasting than winter squashes. Winter squashes have a hard rind and can usually sit around your kitchen for weeks without going bad, and they’re usually more sweet and have darker flesh.
Today’s recipe is the easiest way I know to prepare winter squashes. It’s suitable for just about any hard-skinned squash you find in the supermarket.
Serves 2 as described. If you need to feed more people, buy a larger squash. Decrease the temperature to 325° to avoid burning the surface before the interior is cooked, and expect a longer cooking time overall. Or you can buy several small squashes and cook them as described.
- One softball-sized round squash, or a 6″ oblong squash. I love carnival squash for this.
- Two tbsp unsalted butter
- Two tbsp packed brown sugar
- Pinch salt
Set the halves rind-down on a baking sheet and pop ‘em in the oven. Cooking times vary, so start with 10 minutes and go from there. Your squash is done when a fork or table knife can be easily inserted into the flesh all the way to the rind.
Serve whole, while hot, with a fork or spoon, or scoop out the flesh and mash it before serving.