I never imagined the humble squash as a culinary rock star, but after tasting the butternut squash brownies from the new The Everyday Squash Cook book, I’ve joined the fan club.
The moist, fudgy squares flecked with orange surprised even the book’s three authors, who spent a year developing simple, scrumptious squash recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Rob Firing, senior publicity director at the book’s publisher, HarperCollins Canada, is a gardener and griller who dreamed up the project after the incredible success of cookbooks on kale and quinoa, which the Everyday authors agree are much less “happy” ingredients.
Chef Ivy Knight figured she was ideally suited to develop the recipes after growing up on PEI with a hippie dad who grew tons of squash and cooked it every way possible to entice his family to eat it.
Though she was alarmed when her food writer husband and co-author Kerry Knight began crumbling tofu in the blender with apple and zucchini, a summer squash, the results were a revelation.
“It tastes fantastic and makes a satisfying breakfast,” says Ivy.
Ditto the cantaloupe-butternut squash smoothie and the thin strips of butternut “bacon” in the book’s breakfast tacos.
Squash’s thick skin and unwieldy size make it intimidating. But look at the convenience, Knight says – it keeps for months on the counter without losing its nutrients.
Cook the entire squash in one go, she suggests, and you’ll have a base for several meals and extra to freeze for winter when there’s no local squash around.
Start with a smooth long-necked butternut squash, with its small seed cavity, and graduate to dense buttercup or kabocha, Firing’s favourite.
There’s a variety for everyone.
Squash is a true superfood. It’s rich in fibre, contains five times the recommended daily dose of vitamin A, is high in B6 and potassium and loaded with powerful health-protecting antioxidants.
Buy & Store
- Choose a dry, firm squash heavy for its size.
- Avoid cuts, cracks and soft spots.
- Store whole winter squash up to three months in a dry place out of direct sunlight.
- Do not refrigerate, or it will quickly deteriorate.
- For longer storage, peel squash, cut in cubes and freeze in resealable bags.
- Cut off ends, then cut a flat piece off one round side with a sharp knife to give you a solid (and safe) surface to cut through.
- The snap lid of a Mason jar is great for scraping out the seed cavity.
- Cut smaller squash in half, unpeeled, and roast cut-side down.
- Strong, tangy cheeses such as cheddar and feta pair deliciously with the sweet, nutty flavour of squash.
- Kids love spaghetti squash, done when the strings pull away easily with a fork. “You can cook it, keep it in a container in the fridge and do all kinds of simple things with it,” says Knight. “And it’s gluten free.”
- Roast peeled, cubed squash at 400F (200C) for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn and roast another 10 to 15 minutes. Serve as a side dish or toss into any main course. Knight even makes a candied butternut ice cream sundae.
- Knight uses unsweetened canned pumpkin in muffins, grilled cheese sandwiches, waffles, panna cotta and much more.
- The secret to perfect grilled zucchini, says Firing, is to grill it naked, with no oil, then dress it afterward. “It will never stick,” he says, “and it will look and taste delicious.”
- Save the seeds! Mix with a little oil, salt and spices and roast at 300F ( C) for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until crisp.
These super moist treats, adapted from The Everyday Squash Book (HarperCollins Canada Ltd.), make the perfect gift for chocolate lovers.
1 ½ cups diced butternut squash (1/4 to ½-inch dice)
1/3 cup butter
6 oz (180 g) semisweet chocolate, chopped
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp baking powder
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Grease an 8-inch square baking pan or line with parchment paper, allowing a few inches to hang over each side. Butter parchment, if using, and set pan aside.
Fill a saucepan with enough water to cover squash and bring to a rolling boil. Add squash and cook 6 to 10 minutes, or until tender. Drain well and set aside.
In top half of a double boiler over medium-high heat, combine butter, chocolate and cocoa powder. Bring water in bottom half to a simmer and stir chocolate mixture constantly until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.
In separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking powder.
In mixing bowl, cream together sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add melted chocolate and mix until combined. Add flour mixture and blend well. Fold in squash.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake at 350 F 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick in the centre comes out clean (a little melted chocolate is fine). Remove and cool in pan about 15 minutes.
Grab parchment ends and lift slab from pan. Cool completely on wire rack before cutting into squares.
Makes 16 brownies.
Originally published Oct. 2, 2014 in the Toronto Star.