Agricultural acts: squashed!

By Jenna Lookner | Nov 14, 2012
Photo by: Jenna Lookner Buttercup and sunshine squash cut in half and ready to clean.

Rockport — "I feel like I'm buying so much of this and then I realize — it's just squash," Devon Salisbury remarks. It's barely 5 p.m. and already dark out Friday, Nov. 9, as Devon inspects the large selection of bright squash in bins outdoors at Fresh off the Farm in Rockport. She chooses a cross section of the vegetable butternut, buttercup, acorn and sunshine squash make an appealing visual as she tucks each into a basket slung over her arm.

We head inside she grabs a white onion and two Cortland apples from White Oak Farm in Warren; the squash are all from Wholesome Valley Farm in Smyrna Mills. Our total comes to $13.84.

Though the growing season is over for a vast majority of Maine gardeners, many farms are still in production utilizing various techniques from greenhouses to row covers to ensure the quality and longevity of their season. While squash is typically a fall veggie anyway, a variety of other local produce including salad greens, kale and foraged mushrooms are still readily available at FOTF and local farmstands and markets.

Simple squash bisque

2 lbs squash, we used buttercup, butternut and sunshine squash

1 pint cream (optional)

1 quart chicken or vegetable stock

1 large white onion

1 large apple

salt and pepper to taste

Half, clean and roast squash on an olive oil coated sheet pan at 400 to 425 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until they soften and caramelize. Rough-dice onion and apple, sautee in a stock pot with olive oil until translucent. Natural juices from the apple will sweat into the pot as well. Scoop cooked squash directly into the stock pot (you may wait a few minutes for the roasted squash to cool before handling), add stock and stir, seasoning to taste. Allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. Add one pint of cream and puree using an immersion blender.

Kale salad

1 large bunch of kale, it will lose volume when roasted.

1/2 large butternut squash

goat cheese if desired

olive oil

salt and pepper

Peel and clean the butternut squash, cut flesh into approximately one-inch cubes, season with salt and pepper to taste and toss in a a drizzle of olive oil, roast on a sheet pan for about 20 minutes. Remove kale from the stem and cut into smaller pieces, toss with about a teaspoon of olive oil and spread in a single layer on a sheet pan. Roast at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes, or until edges begin to brown and crisp (this happens quickly so keep a close watch). Remove the kale from the sheet pan and place in a bowl, allow it to sit for about 10 minutes, top with squash cubes and goat cheese if desired.

We swing by Hannaford and grab a pint of Oakhurst cream ($3.19) and head back to Devon's. As with any dairy-based soup, Devon notes, you can substitute milk or half-and-half if preferred. A heavier dairy product will contribute to a more viscous, creamy soup.

As Devon unloads and preps each squash she explains the properties that differentiate them.

"Butternut is the workhorse of all squash," she explains as she holds up the flesh-colored squash. She adds that butternut has a high ratio of flesh to seeds, making it easy to prep, the versatility of its texture makes it a good squash for someone just delving into working with the vegetable.

The green acorn squash and it's flashy cousin, the carnival squash, are next. Devon points out that the two resemble each other in shape, size and skin texture, thus it's easy to deduce that they are members of the same family. The two have a higher water content than the butternut squash, with firm, golden-yellow flesh. She explains that they are well-suited to being cut and roasted to produce a "really great side dish." She also advocates roasting these varieties halved, with the cut-side down because of their water content.

Devon said she often roasts the acorn and carnival squash and fills them with a stuffing that includes a grain — quinoa, rice or couscous — cranberries and almonds. After roasting the squash at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes she removes them from the oven, flips them over and heaps the stuffing into the cavity of the squash. She said she replaces the filled squash in the oven, baking until the stuffing is browned and heated through. She noted that she often reinvigorates leftovers in the creation of the stuffing and considers stuffed squash an affordable, vegetarian recipe in which one squash feeds two people a single-dish meal.

"It's a great way to use up anything you want," she explained.

Devon explains that both the sunshine and buttercup squash are dryer incarnations of the versatile veggie. She compares the sunshine and buttercup squash to blue hubbard squash; side-by-side she notes the three all have a similar exterior texture.

"You can kind of tell squash consistencies by looking at the skin," she explains. "The thicker, less smooth types are dryer."

Devon elects to use the sunshine and buttercup squash for the bisque, she decides to use part of the butternut for good measure.

"I wouldn't make soup out of acorn squash," she explains. "You can, but it doesn't get the same creamy texture."

She halves and cleans all of the squash, rather than composting the seeds and pulp Devon sends it home with me for my chickens. Not a bit goes to waste. She puts several varieties of squash on a sheet pan coated in olive oil and sprinkles the squash with salt and pepper before placing the pan in her oven.

At 425 degrees, the squash will roast in 25 to 30 minutes, Devon recommends checking the squash at 20 minutes and testing for firmness.

The remainder of the buttercup squash Devon peels and cuts into cubes. She requested a bunch of the kale remaining in my garden and has elected to make a winter salad. She tosses the cubed butternut squash with olive oil, salt and pepper and places it in the oven. She notes that butternut squash cubes can be frozen raw or cooked.

"If you're going to have your oven on for an hour you might as well process a lot of food. If you're going to roast two squash, roast three, put some in your freezer," Devon recommends.

As the squash cook in the oven, Devon chops an onion and a Cortland apple and begins to sweat them in a sauce pan coated with olive oil. Within a few minutes the onions and apples turn translucent and a savory aroma fills the kitchen.

Devon said she prefers roasting squash to other cooking techniques.

"People can boil squash, but roasting it gives such a nice depth of flavor," she explains as she pulls the buttercup and sunshine squash from the oven, the flesh has browned nicely, "you can see the brown, it's the carmelization of it's natural sugars."

She pops the kale — again with olive oil, salt and pepper — into the oven for about five minutes. She explained that once the kale has browned and begins to crisp at the edges it should be removed from the oven and placed in a bowl when it should sit for a few minutes. Then she tops the kale with cubes of roasted butternut squash and said she sometimes adds chevre goat cheese .

She scoops the softened, cooked buttercup, sunshine and butternut squash into the onion mixture and adds a quart of chicken stock. She makes her own stock, but Better than Bouillon brand jarred stock base is the quick version both of us prefer. It's worth buying a jar of the chicken or veggie base and keeping it in the fridge.

Devon allows the stock, squash, apple and onion to cook for about 10 minutes before turning off the stove, she purees the entire mixture until smooth and adds a pint of cream at the very end. The result is a silky, rich mixture in a vibrant shade of warm, peachy orange. Devon spoons the soup into bowls and tops each with a dollop of sour cream. We enjoy the body-warming, nutty soup with the crisp kale and squash salad, Devon places a dish of sweet roasted squash rings on the table as a side dish.

Our meal cost comes in at less than $20 and produces enough food for eight people. We note that if the kale were purchased it would have elevated the meal cost to about $23.

Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at jlookner@courierpublicationsllc.com.

Multiple varieties of Maine-grown squash are merchandised in bins at Fresh off the Farm in Rockport. (Photo by: Jenna Lookner)
Devon Salisbury peels a Cortland apple. (Photo by: Jenna Lookner)
Onion and apple sautee in a stock pot awaiting the addition of squash, stock and cream. (Photo by: Jenna Lookner)
Kale is prepared and spread on a sheet pan before being briefly roasted in the oven for a squash and kale salad. (Photo by: Jenna Lookner)
Roasted butternut squash rests before the flesh is scooped in to a stock pot. (Photo by: Jenna Lookner)
Squash bisque and kale salad make for a lovely, and inexpensive, locally-sourced dinner. (Photo by: Jenna Lookner)
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