The time of year is approaching when cooking can feel a bit more like a chore than usual for me. I choose to eat as seasonally as possible, and from the garden as much as possible, which means that fresh ingredients are scarce, unless I cave and buy them. (I do. Especially things like lettuce and escarole.) The freezers are stocked: blanched chard, kale, broccoli rabe, beet greens, and mustard greens wait to be added to sautés, stews, and soups. Green beans wait to be dropped in boiling water, squeezed a little dry, and cooked in a screaming hot skillet so they get a little brown in spots. There are peppers. There are frozen, canned, and dried tomatoes in a variety of preparations. There are strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and rhubarb, and canned peaches. There is corn. In the refrigerator, there are beets, carrots, rutabagas, and cabbage. There are potatoes (sprouting like mad, but still edible). And there is winter squash. We are definitely not lacking for food. Delicious food.
Don’t get me wrong: I am incredibly grateful for the bounty the garden provides even in the winter.
But I am really ready to be pulling some of it out of the ground instead of the freezer. Given the fact that yesterday the high was 10 degrees, today is 18 degrees, and on Tuesday and Wednesday we’re looking at about a foot of snow, I’m doing a lot of sighing. Spring does not arrive easily, that’s for sure. I won’t be pulling anything fresh out of the ground until the asparagus arrives around the beginning of May.
The winter squashes are a little tired these days, too. The butternut squash did well last summer, and though we have eaten lots and given plenty away, there are still six or so left. At this point in the winter, they are old and drying up a little (my skin sympathizes…). I eyeball them every time I throw a log on the fire in the room where they live, and they stare back accusingly. “Use us or lose us,” they are saying. So this week I have decided to get busy with that.
Prep for older butternut is the same as for fresh, with the added step of cutting out the stringy middle bits. Unless I am roasting it for puree, in which case I don’t bother. A y-peeler, like the one in the top photo, is your friend for speedily peeling the squash. (Which you do not really have to do if you are roasting it. Scrub it well and proceed.)
Butternut squash has a million uses. Slice it thinly, roast it until tender, and top a pizza with the squash, caramelized onions, and gruyere. Add it to a chili with beef and black beans. Make a savory oatmeal. Halve it, scoop out the seeds, and roast it cut-side down until it starts to collapse, and then puree it in the food processor. The resulting puree needs little more than broth to turn it into a velvety soup, and it can be used anywhere you might use canned pumpkin (put it in a fine-mesh sieve to drain some of the water out before using it in baked goods).
A recipe I plan to make later in the week turns the puree into an Alfredo sauce for pasta. Yes, please.
A friend recently made a squash, apple, and cheddar calzone for her take-out food business, and it got me thinking about those flavors. I combined them with maple syrup, thyme, Swiss chard, and a splash of balsamic vinegar and piled everything into a pie crust for a galette. The leftover filling and crust trimmings turned into a cute little turnover that will make a perfect lunch. (A bonus of the freezing weather is that I just placed the baking sheet on the picnic table outside to let the crust set before popping it in the oven. There was no room for it in the freezer…)
With all of the variety available, maybe cooking this week won’t be so bad, after all.