Friday, August 15, 2008

Varaieties of Squash

By Nichole Giles

Not long ago, my younger (single) brother called me, asking how to cook a papaya squash. Of course, he didn’t know it was a papaya squash—he only knew it was funny shaped, yellow, and came out of my garden. But he wanted to try it. A few days later, my younger sister called asking for yet more squash cooking instructions.

Since we moved a lot as we were growing up, we didn’t often have a backyard garden from which to experiment with different vegetable recipes. But now that I have a home and family of my own, I’ve discovered it might be possible to go a tiny bit overboard with our veggie-growing experiments.

My husband is the one with the green thumb. I can’t even keep houseplants alive. But he grows them, and I cook them and we balance each other out. At any rate, I have a handful of easy-to-cook favorites, and after describing the instructions over the phone a couple of times, I thought it would be fun to identify some different types of squash, and give simple instructions on cooking them.

Spaghetti Squash

This beautiful guy is shaped like an oval, and should be light yellow in color. To cook, slice in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, place in a glass-baking dish and cook for 7-10 minutes in the microwave, or an hour in the oven. We’ve also found that we enjoy dropping a tablespoon of butter or margarine in the middle, wrapping the squash in foil, and throwing it on the barbeque grill.

After cooking, scoop meat with fork. It should come out of the shell easily, and the texture should be somewhat noodle-like, but slightly crunchy. Top with butter and salt. YUM!

Banana Squash

Most people are intimidated by the very size of this baby, since it can grow as big as twelve pounds, and as long as 20-22 inches. How does one family ever eat a whole squash of this size, let alone several? And if you have a big enough family, how do you cook it?

To cook, first you must decide on how much you’d like to eat. Slice off the very end and toss the top (or bottom) in the garbage. Then, cut off a section of the squash. Cover the remaining squash with plastic wrap and store in a cool area, or even the refrigerator. Scoop the seeds out of the cut section, and peel away the skin (using a knife, because a peeler won’t do the job.) Chop the meat to bite-sized pieces and steam or boil until tender.

This squash can be served in a variety of ways.
A. Once cooked, simply serve as bite-sized pieces topped with butter and salt.
B. Or run through a blender or food processor and serve mashed potato style, with either butter and salt or cinnamon and sugar.
C. The mashed product can also be used for a soup base or in breads, pies, or other recipes.

Heart of Gold Squash

Heart of Gold squash looks very similar to a small pumpkin, except for the color. The light green skin, with darker green stripes, seems more suited to a melon than a squash, and is indicative of a sweet flavor. This delicious squash is super easy to cook, and one of my favorite varieties. Too bad the seeds and plants are so hard to find.

Both the skin and meat of this variety are soft, so it is easy to slice (unlike the spaghetti squash, which often needs the equivalent of a chainsaw) and cooks quickly.

Cut this squash lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Depending on the number of people you’re feeding, you may choose to cook both sides at once, since it is a smaller squash. Place the halves skin-side down in a glass-baking dish. In the microwave: cook for 5-7 minutes. In the oven: cook for 15-20 minutes.

Again, serve with butter and salt or your favorite mixture of spices.

Papaya Squash

This guy looks sort of like a bright yellow pear on steroids. Like all varieties of squash, if left on the vine, they just keep growing and growing and growing. But this particular variety has quite a different taste. It is much more sweet than other varieties, sort of like butternut squash (which, I’m sorry to admit, is not a variety I know much about—yet.) As with all the other varieties, it tastes great with butter and salt, but recently, I tried a cinnamon sauce that was very yummy.

Warning: this baby is juicy, and the product it expels is nothing short of natural glue. Be prepared to scrub at your hands, cutting surface, knife, and anything else it touches before it’s cooked. Don’t worry, it’s worth it!

To cook, try any of the above instructions—they’ll work fine for this one too. Or, to try my cinnamon sauce recipe, cut off the top and bottom of the squash, slice lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. After removing the skin, chop the meat into bite-size pieces and steam for 3-4 minutes or until fork tender. Drain any remaining water. Add the following recipe, and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes in saucepan, microwave, or steamer.

Cinnamon Sauce:

4 Tbs butter or margarine
1 Tbs Cinnamon
1/3 C sugar
1-3 tsp cornstarch (depending on your desired thickness. I like mine thick.)

Melt butter in small saucepan. Mix together cinnamon, sugar, and cornstarch and add to melted butter. Stir until thick. Pour over partially cooked squash, cook for 1-2 more minutes. Enjoy!

Yellow Squash and Zucchini.

I know, I already covered zucchini once before. And yellow squash is so…boring, right? Because, whatever you can do with yellow squash, you can do with zucchini. And vice-versa. But if you’re looking for a unique and fun way to incorporate either or both of these squash into your diet—I mean, other than slicing and steaming them, which is always good, but gets old after a while—here’s a new one.

Wash the squash thoroughly and cut off top and bottom ends. Run through a food shredder—raw—being sure to leave it about three times the thickness of cheese, or at least similar to spaghetti noodles. Blanch in boiling water for approximately 1-2 minutes, or until still just slightly crunchy. Drain completely, and pat dry with paper towel. Serve topped with your favorite pasta sauce. (Personally, I like Alfredo, but marinara and pesto are also very good.) Add any of the toppings you’d add to your pasta dish—including sliced chicken, grilled veggies, or meatballs.


Keith Fisher said...

love the fairy. maybe you could get the elementals to cook up all that squash for their next party.

Nichole Giles said...

She's beautiful, isn't she? That sounds like a good plan. We'll see.

The fairies are going to be pretty busy in a few chapters...


Rachelle said...

I've never heard of papaya squash! That sounds so good. And I love the fairy too. I was chasing her with my mouse and clicked on her and she stopped flying. I caught a fairy! :)

Nichole Giles said...

I have TONS of papaya squash. If you want some, it's yours! It is yummy, by the way.

Oh, and since you caught my fairy, I suppose you'll probably have good luck for...a week!


ali said...

That's excellent Nichole, thanks!

I have no idea how to cook squash or even what the different varieties are, so I appreciated this post!

Nichole Giles said...

Glad I could help.