Appetites: Heirloom squash bring color to the fall table

Heirloom squash varieties, many of which are available at local food co-ops and farmers markets, include red kuri, left, buttercup, center, and hubbard, back right.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Whether or not you believe in the Great Pumpkin, there are some great pumpkins and many other varieties of squash out there right now. Beth Dooley, author of Minnesota's Bounty: The Farmers Market Cookbook, joined MPR's Tom Crann to talk about what's in season right now.

TOM CRANN: This is the time for squash — give us an idea of what kind of squash are out there now.

BETH DOOLEY: It is exciting because there are so many varieties of squash, and most people think all squash are alike, but it is not just acorn squash anymore. There are some beautiful heirloom varieties like some of the miniature butternut squashes, some beautiful buttercup squashes, there's red kuri squash, Long Island Cheese, the names go on and on and they are fascinating.

CRANN: Let's start with those heirloom varieties. Is this similar to the movement to revive heirloom tomatoes and heirloom apples — to bring back obscure types of squash to make them new again?

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DOOLEY: That's right. I was at Seed Savers Exchange recently, which is a wonderful preservation farm that is really in the business of collecting these new seeds of old kinds of crops seeds that people are growing. And I found varieties of squash with names like Long Island Cheese. It is a very round, squat-looking kind of squash that looks like a wheel of cheese. It is dense and also tastes mellow and has a rich, creamy flavor that a cheese might. It is delicious.

Buttercup is another kind of heirloom squash which has a funky green color with bright orange stripes. It is a really wonderful squash to have with a little bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I used to like to layer the squash with a lot of brown sugar, maple syrup, and butter, but that can really disguise the richness and wonderful flavor of buttercup that can be called forth with just a little bit of acid.

It's also terrific for soup, because it creams up so nicely. In fact, you will want to be careful to add stock to the squash before stirring in cream, because the buttercup will soak up liquids really quickly. To make an Asian-style soup, you can use coconut milk instead of cream, and you can add curry powder to that or some miso.

CRANN: Then there's Queensland Blue. Is it actually blue?

DOOLEY: It is actually blue. It's a beautiful squash with a silvery, dark blue rind, but when you cut into it has a bright orange interior. It's stunning if you bake it in its skin. Since this squash is also so sweet, it makes a fabulous dessert. So, you could bake it off and serve it with a little maple syrup or honey, and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar — almost like you would treat a baked apple — and it is delicious.

CRANN: It is also the time of year for pumpkins, for carving into Jack-o'-lanterns. Are those carving pumpkins any good for pie?

A red kuri squash sliced open before peeling and dicing to make cookbook author Beth Dooley's Red Kuri Thai Curry Soup.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

DOOLEY: Not really. Those are field pumpkins, and they are kind of stringy and they do not have much flavor. They can be too wet to bake with. I really prefer to carve, then after we're done with Halloween, later bake with varieties like the Cinderella pumpkin. It is a really cute, round, bright orange squash that is really pretty. It is a little bit smaller than a typical field pumpkin, but they taste delicious and still make a nice Jack-o'-lantern. You could also carve a Queensland Blue, or decorate with a Long Island Cheese squash — those would all make really interesting Halloween carvings.

CRANN: And those would all make decent pie, too?

DOOLEY: Absolutely.

CRANN: It is also the time of year for apples, too. Do they make a decent combination with squash?

DOOLEY: Yes, they make a wonderful combination. In fact, if you bake off the apples with the squash, you can try a couple of different things. If you sprinkle them with brown sugar, and some cinnamon, nutmeg, and some butter — you have a lovely dessert, or you could use that for a pie filling.

Otherwise, you could also use that for a sweet squash-apple sauce by cooking them together in a pot and sweeten them with a little sugar or maple syrup. Or, you can go savory with the same squash-apple mixture and instead of sweetening it, add a little bit of acid, like lemon or lime juice. Try a little curry powder or some bright, hot pepper.

If you want to try something a little more Italian, add some rosemary or parsley, and you will have a wonderful savory sauce that you can serve on chicken, pork, or even beef.

Recipes from Beth Dooley:

Squash soup
Cookbook author Beth Dooley's Red Kuri Thai Curry Soup uses a kuri squash, coconut milk, fresh ginger and lime.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Red Kuri Thai Curry Soup
Serves 6

This lovely soup is lush with coconut milk and sparked with fresh ginger and lime.

2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter
1 small onion, thinkly sliced
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
1-1/2 pounds kuri or buttercup squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
2-1/2 to 3 cups water
1 13-1/2 ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
1 teaspoon lime zest
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or more to taste
1 tablespoon brown sugar, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

In a large heavy pot, heat the coconut oil over moderate heat and saute the onion and ginger, stirring until the onion is softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the curry paste and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the squash and enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer over low heat until soft, about 25 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk, lime zest and juice, sugar and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the cilantro and serve right away.

Spicy, Tangy, Candied Butternut Squash
Makes 4 cups

Serve these sweet-tangy nuggets over vanilla ice cream or orange sorbet or to garnish gingerbread or simple pound cake (and garnish with whipped cream).

1/3 cup orange marmalade
1/4 cup sugar
1 whole vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Pinch of ground cloves
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 small butternut squash (about 1-3/4 pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)

Put the marmalade, sugar, vanilla, cloves and orange juice in a large, wide pot. Stir in about 1-1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat to dissolve the marmalade and sugar.

Add the squash and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and partially cover the pot. Gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes.

Uncover and cook until the liquid is syrupy, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean, and discard. Serve warm over ice cream, pound cake, spice cake or gingerbread. This may be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week. Gently rewarm before serving.