Awash in squash!

Bill Boot is awash in squash, and he couldn’t be happier.

Bill Boot at Ontario Food Terminal

Bill Boot at Ontario Food Terminal

Five days a week for more than 30 years, Boot has arrived at the Ontario Food Terminal at midnight from his farm in Scotland, an hour and a half west of Toronto.

By dawn his outdoor stall is a work of art, with 17 varieties of winter squash front and centre in open 40-pound boxes.

Between mid-July and Christmas he sells 80,000 boxes of squash to customers such as Longo’s, each one labelled with a big blue sticker full of cooking instructions.

The best time to buy Ontario squash is right now, he says, when you can try a new variety every week. His wife favours sweet mama and skinny delicata.

From his colourful display, the ridged pepper or acorn is the easiest to identify, in dark green, orange, white swan and the squat, personal-sized sweet dumpling.

Then come the flat ovals, the buttercup, golden nugget and a plump grey-blue heirloom squash called sweet meat, which cooked up extremely bland!

Boot’s smooth, 2-kilogram Hubbard squashes in smooth burnt orange or blue-grey are a shadow of the warty 25-kilogram monsters our grandmothers kept through the winter.

Long-necked butternut squash, with its small seed cavity and deep orange flesh, also lasts for months and it’s easy to peel and cube for soup and risotto, or roast it with other root vegetables.

For fun, however, you can’t beat the pale oblong spaghetti squash. When cooked, the flesh separates into mild, golden strands like spaghetti. Add tomato sauce for a light, healthy dinner.
It even has a cousin, the smaller stripetti, a cross between a spaghetti and delicata squash.

Boot says local spaghetti squash will probably be sold out by mid-October, when the imports start, so grab one while you can!

NUTRITION

Winter squash is rich in fibre and an excellent source of potassium and vitamins A, B and C. The deeper the orange-coloured flesh, the more vitamin A (carotene) it contains. They’re also super low in calories, at 66 calories per 8 oz. (250 g) serving.

BUY/STORE

  • Choose heavy, rock-hard squash with no cracks or soft spots and a dull finish.
  • Hard shells keep winter squash fresh for weeks, even months in a cool (15C), dry, well-ventilated space. Do not refrigerate.  Spaghetti squash is more delicate so don’t keep it long.
  • Once cut, store raw squash in an airtight container or wrap tightly up to one week.
  • Freeze cooked squash up to six months.

PREP

  • Cutting through hard squash can be a complete pain. We pounded our most recent spaghetti squash on the counter several times to force a chef’s knife through it.
  • Hard-to-peel ridged squash, such as pepper, are best baked in half, or in rings or wedges. Once the flesh is soft, the skin is easily removed.
  • Bake: Cut squash in half lengthwise, remove seeds and fibres and place cut-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet for easy cleanup. Bake at 350F until the flesh is tender, about 45 minutes.
  • Microwave: Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds, cover halves with plastic wrap and microwave, cut-side up, for 15 minutes or until easily pierced.
  • If cooked spaghetti squash doesn’t break into strands, cook a few minutes longer. To save time, bake and scrape squash a few days ahead and reheat in the microwave before finishing recipe.

COOK

  • Spaghetti: For a quick supper, gently toss cooked spaghetti squash strands with melted butter and garlic or with hot tomato sauce. Add fresh herbs, wilted greens or sautéed mushrooms.
  • Gratin: Sauté 1 chopped onion and 1 chopped garlic clove in 1 tbsp (15 mL) oil. Add 5 cups (1.25 L) chopped chard or kale until wilted. Stir together with strands of one cooked spaghetti squash, 1 egg, 1 tsp (5 mL) fresh thyme, 1/2 cup (125 mL) yogurt, 3/4 cup (180 mL) ricotta cheese and 1/2 cup (125 mL) grated parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with extra parmesan and bake at 400F (200 C) for 35 minutes until golden.

Spaghetti Squash with Arugula and Goat Cheese

Spaghetti squash with arugula and goat cheese

Spaghetti squash with arugula and goat cheese

 Feel free to stop at the herbed garlic butter. The arugula and goat cheese add a peppery crunch and creamy richness.

1 spaghetti squash (3 lb./1.5 kg)

3 tbsp (45 mL) butter

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt

2 tsp (10 mL) chopped fresh thyme

1/4 tsp (1 mL) freshly ground pepper

2 cups (500 mL) loosely packed baby arugula

1/2 cup (125 mL) crumbled goat cheese

Cut squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Place, cut side down, on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in 350F (180C) oven about 45 minutes or until tender. Or cover halves with plastic wrap and microwave, flesh side up, for 15 minutes or until easily pierced.

Let sit 5 minutes, then use a fork to gently scrape out long strands into a bowl. If they don’t come out easily, cook a little longer.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add garlic and salt. Cook about 5 minutes or until garlic starts to turn golden. Remove from heat and stir in thyme and pepper.

Pour garlic butter over squash and toss lightly. Gently fold in arugula and crumbled goat cheese. Serve warm. Makes 4 servings.

Toronto Star, Sept. 5, 2013

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