Winter squash has arrived, just in the nick of time. Tomatoes and corn are no match for fall’s quickened hungers. Our shortening days and chilly nights require more substantial fare. And just in time, blogger and local food advocate Amanda Paa serves up imaginative and healthful recipes in “Smitten With Squash” (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 168 pages, $17.95).
The names alone conjure autumnal fancy — delicata, sweet dumpling, Cinderella. These robust colors signal trick-or-treating, sweet and earthy eating of soups, side dishes, stews, muffins, cakes and desserts.
Squash is a patient vegetable, Paa tells us. It can be harvested and kept for a few weeks and, unlike most vegetables, requires no refrigeration. “I’ve never met a vegetable that crosses so many cultural lines and is both sweet and savory,” Paa writes.
She plays this out with recipes that are as varied and eclectic as squash is humble. And she organizes the chapters on winter squash by variety, so that the recipes are tuned to the subtle differences between them. With dishes of Japanese, Italian, Indian, Latino and African inspiration, the flavors sing with lime, curry, miso, ginger and Parmesan.
Paa includes information about squash’s many nutritional benefits, along with tips on selecting, storing and preparing squash. I was happy to learn a new method for dealing with the dowdy Hubbard, a squash that is very hard to crack. (In desperation, I’ve taken to standing on the roof of the car and dropping it, encased in a garbage bag on the driveway, so it will crack). But Paa suggests baking it in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes to soften the skin, then using a cleaver to whack it open. (It works.)
Paa’s enthusiasm for her subject is contagious. Each recipe’s headnote informs and inspires, with serving suggestions and accompaniments, as well as ways to use up leftovers. Take the recipe for curried squash hummus, a riff that elevates this favorite dip to an elegant spread. Also noteworthy is her devotion to detail. Each baked recipe includes gluten-free alternatives and, in the introduction, Paa provides her own suggestions for gluten-free flour.
The first half of this book is devoted to summer squash varieties, and Paa does as much with zucchini and summer squash as any good cook can. But, in truth, I much prefer their fall field cousins. Cooking through this book helped me realize how varied and versatile this one vegetable can be. Each chapter includes a short section titled “One Easy Dish,” a short paragraph with inspired and simple ideas.
The book is the newest addition to the Northern Plate series from the Minnesota Historical Society Press.
Beth Dooley is the author of “Minnesota’s Bounty.”