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Spotlight on Butternut Squash

Risotto, stew and pasta sauce – Three recipes highlighting this winter vegetable.

Winter’s a tough time if you’re a vegetable person. We’re lucky to have more access to fresh produce this time of year than we did 10 or 20 years ago, but your best bet is still to work with what is "in season" this time of year. In the Northeast, that is often the squashes, gourds and root vegetables that store well over the long, cold months.

These three recipes all feature butternut squash, which is actually a fruit, not vegetable. If you haven’t cooked with a butternut before, it has a sweet, nutty flavor similar to pumpkin and is actually interchangeable with pumpkin in most recipes. Butternuts do need to be peeled and seeded for cooking, but the beauty of most grocery stores these days is that they pre-peel and seed (and often even cube) butternut squash and prepackage it. Definitely take advantage of this shortcut for a weeknight meal, although I would caution you to make sure the fruit still looks fresh in the package. A whole squash can be stored at a cool room temperature for months and still be good, but once it’s peeled and cut, it will get slimy quickly.

There is a simple, tomato-free Cheesy Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce (adapted from allrecipes.com) which is a great way to introduce kids to butternut squash. You can also use in place of tomato sauce on a pizza – try topping it with prosciutto, pine nuts and a sharp cheese and finish with fresh arugula once it’s baked!  The second recipe is for a Spiced Butternut Squash Stew with Couscous (adapted from Foodnetwork.com), a delicious vegetarian dish which can also be thrown together in a slow cooker on low for 4-6 hours so that dinner is waiting for you when you get home. The last recipe is a hearty risotto with Butternut Squash, Pancetta and Jack Cheese (adapted from myrecipes.com) and perfect for cold winter nights. Enjoy!

Cheesy Butternut Squash Pasta
2 1/2 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1/3 cup onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 apple, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup shredded (fresh) Italian cheese blend – any combination of Asiago, Parmesan and Romano
Salt and pepper to taste
Your favorite pasta – this sauce works really well with a nice, hearty wheat penne

1. Add the squash to a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil on high heat, reduce to medium-high and simmer until the squash is very tender (test it with a fork) – about 15-20 minutes. Drain the squash and set aside.
2. Heat the olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium-low and add in the onion, garlic, and apple. Stir frequently until softened and brown – about 15 minutes. 
3. Add the butternut squash and chicken broth and bring to a boil over medium-high. Reduce the heat to a simmer and stir in the milk and the cheeses.  Continue stirring until the cheeses have melted and the sauce has reached your desired thickness (5-10 minutes). Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve over pasta.

Spiced Butternut Squash Stew with Couscous
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 canned plum tomatoes, crushed
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 small butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 16-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 cups plus 1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
1-inch strip of lemon zest
Juice of ½ lemon
½ cup golden raisins
4 cups chopped spinach (a bag of baby spinach works well here, too)
¼ cup toasted, sliced almonds
1 cup couscous

1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden (10-15 minutes). 
2. Add the garlic, crushed tomatoes and spices and cook until the cinnamon stick unfurls and the tomatoes are cooked down (5 minutes). 
3. Add the squash, chickpeas, 3 cups of the chicken broth, lemon zest and raisins and bring to a simmer. Cook, partially covered, until the squash is fork tender (about 30 minutes). 
4. Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted. Finish with the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste and keep warm on low heat.
5. Bring the remaining chicken broth to a boil and season with salt and pepper.  Remove from heat, stir in the couscous, cover and set aside until the couscous has plumped and absorbed all of the broth – about five minutes. Fluff the couscous.
6.  Mound the couscous in four soup bowls, spoon the butternut stew over each and top with the toasted almond slices to serve.
NOTE: If you would like to do this in a slow cooker, add your garlic to the last 5 minutes of step 1 and then add all ingredients through the spinach to the slow cooker and cook, on low, for 4-6 hours. While you are making up the couscous to serve, finish the stew with the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Risotto with Butternut Squash, Pancetta and Jack Cheese
1 ½ pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch cubes (about 3 ½ cups)
2 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/3 cups water
2 Tbsp. sweet red wine (Madeira or Marsala work well, but you can use whatever red wine you have open)
1 Tbsp. minced fresh tarragon
4 oz chopped pancetta
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 tsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
¾ cup uncooked Arborio rice
2/3 cup (about 2 ½ oz) Monterey Jack cheese, cut into ½-inch cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs. pine nuts, toasted
Fresh tarragon sprigs for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 475°. Place the squash on a non-stick jelly roll pan coated with cooking spray, and bake for 20 minutes or until tender, turning after 10 minutes.  Remove the squash and reduce the oven to 325°.
2. Combine the broth, water and tarragon in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Keep warm over low heat.
3. In a Dutch oven, cook the pancetta over medium-high heat until crisp.  Remove the pancetta to a paper-towel to drain. Add the olive oil and onion to the pancetta drippings and sauté for 10 minutes, or until the onion is tender and browned.  Add the garlic and sauté for 2-3 more minutes. Add the rice to the pan and sauté for 1 more minute.
4. Stir in the broth mixture and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer over low, uncovered, for 10 minutes without stirring.
5. Place the pan in the oven and bake at 325° for 15 minutes. Remove the risotto from the oven and stir in the squash, pancetta, cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Cover with a clean, dry cloth and let sit for 10 minutes (the rice will continue to cook). 
6. Sprinkle with the pine nuts and garnish with sprigs of tarragon to serve.

Peg Mallett February 05, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Delicious root vegetables, fresh greens, mushrooms, local cheese and grass-fed beef all available for 5 more weeks (through March 10) at the Wayland Winter Farmers Market - Saturdays 10 AM to 2 PM. http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?llr=waxv5xbab&v=001dsGnuBrFqEHGC0puzhaNXS55fELxsq6hlLWwVAW488AxEYFhoqOH9XuJbsI7qorHmjdyforAVFNRf1GE1793e5lrOkmjR2Ar4M0jaC8aC8DJJIjENQQNbZtVBCJTMQNRRtPQHoB5h5k03ZNu8VGK4m-aFtz0zm86U3BYtHZjU7he8cCtHnaJ_JJJnHFLfqksJ38mV2Rxhki7yUZABwWwZhkr3ij05JfZ4cDye8ZRJdQyLaA6SjJ18jWH3PPj_RUZCfAwgtXwI9Op7X78jW7g7uNitVU3ff2pdsyA1K2XIYKRU_a-kXGzND0vFjKKUKj8twGA4MIY7WdNT8CVbS4fCuHbhMXHj96Mkt-qBBGhla_RCz04nYvraHaQxSjV31lWhbdeJD3m-A8%3D&id=preview
Amy Simmons February 05, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Thanks, Peg. I highly recommend the farmers' market to everyone...the variety of fresh veggies in the winter, alone, make the outting worth while, but then you add in all of the amazing other vendors from baked goods to grass-fed meats to wines to prepared foods and more and it's well worth the trip. The kids will love it, too!

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