I love fall. Who doesn't appreciate a new season and even in southern California, where the change may be subtle, I notice a slight coolness and a inimitable fragrance in the air at night. Maybe it's the eucalyptus blowing in the warm Santa Ana winds that get me. In regards to all things culinary, it's exciting to welcome the beautiful fruits of the fall. Winter squash can be so versatile from utilizing in lasagnas to tacos, it's perfect for a vegetarian/vegan palate, and can even satisfy the carnivore with some varieties having a meaty texture.
If you are lucky enough to be able to grow some of your own delectable squash treats, it's even more satisfying to nurture a savory soup, stew or bisque, the aromatics of garlic, onion and herbs waft through your home. What's more cozy than that? However, grocery store produce will suffice and farmers markets will be overflowing with their bounty. The other great thing is you can store winter squash… well, all winter! You need the right storage conditions; cool (around 50F), dark and dry with good air circulation. Don't pile them on top of each other in other words.
I learned a trick a while back… and well, it changed my life. I was always daunted by all the different shapes of squash back in the day - and as fascinating as they looked to me, I was sure I would lose a finger trying to cut into them. So I would "cheat" and buy the already peeled & cut butternut squash, sheepishly looking around and being ready with the explanation of "Hey! I'm busy!"
Then, one magical day while working a farmers market dinner, a chef I was working alongside blew my mind. We had a ton of huge pumpkins, Hubbards, Kabocha, Butternut, etc. that all needed to be "broken down" for a massive soup we were preparing to feed 300 people.
I watched in amazement as she simply put each beautiful squash specimen…directly into the oven, WHOLE! There was no slicing and dicing, peeling and cutting. No fingers were sacrificed. Some squashes were placed on a parchment paper lined pan in case their skin was thinner. We wanted to prevent an oozing mess to clean up. But ~ Whole! Just stick the whole thing in the oven at 350F and depending on what you want to use it for, pull it out when it's cooked! If you prefer it "al dente", with more solid pieces for tacos, or a sauté, pull the squash out when you can insert a knife through the skin and it's still firm yet somewhat easy to insert. If you are going to make soup or a puree, then let it cook in it's own vessel allowing it to release it's natural sugars. It will yield an amazing product.
What is really awesome is carving into it. The skin will either peel right away from the flesh of the squash, or it's even easier to cut into and scrape away the product that you want. I took this same concept and started roasting 2-3 whole onions and bulbs of garlic, in their paper and roasted them all at the same time. Talk about aroma! And, when roasted for about 2 hours, the skin of the onion and garlic literally peel right off leaving you a perfect piece of onion and garlic, roasted and ready for integration into your recipe.
Here is my go-to recipe which doesn't take all day, but it will taste like it did…
This soup is satisfying and soothing, it is one of my favorite things to make in the fall.
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