In case you've spent the last few weeks locked inside embroiled in a Guitar Hero marathon jam session, I should point out it's getting cold around here. With the cold comes a shift in the types of produce available locally. As I walk through the farmers' markets now, I see a lot more apples, onions, potatoes and turnips. Don't get me wrong, I love apples (in fact, one of the recipes below feature apples) but nothing is more versatile than Winter squash. Abundantly available during the infinite season of tubers (also known as Winter), Winter squash comes in over 20 varieties and can be cooked in a surprising number of ways. From savory (soups, pastas, even pizzas) to sweet (cookies, pies and cakes), Winter squash is the go-to food for the Winter. Even better, Winter squash is in abundance at local farmers' markets this time of year.
The categorization of squash as Winter and Summer squash is a bit of a misnomer. Summer squashes are mainly found in the Spring and Summer, but their name is derived from their short storage periods. Winter squash, on the other hand, can be stored for months after harvested (if kept in a cool, dry place), making them ideal for use during the Winter. Summer squashes are usually harvested before fully ripe, giving them a softer rind and lighter colored flesh. Winter squashes have a tougher rind, making them more conducive to storing for long periods of time. And almost as if mimicking the colors of Fall, the flesh of Winter squash come in rich yellows and oranges. The varieties of Winter squash are broken into five main groups: Acorn, Delicata, Spaghetti, Butternut and True Winter Squash. Subtle differences in flavors among the varieties of Winter squash allows cooks to use them in an assortment of recipes. To illustrate this point, I present to you Winter Squash 2 ways. For the savory side, a delicious stuffed acorn squash and for the sweet tooth, a roasted butternut squash cheesecake. All of the ingredients for the stuffed acorn squash were purchased at the Dupont Circle farmers' market (except the sausage, a lovely whiskey fennel I picked up at Eastern Market).
Stuffed Acorn Squash
2 large acorn squash
2 large shallots, diced
1 large granny smith (or another tart variety) apple, cored and diced
1 pound of sausage
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Carefully cut each squash in half (the rind is tough, so use a good, sharp knife and be prepared to flex some muscle) and place them face down in a nonstick roasting pan. Roast for at least one hour or until the flesh has softened. Set the squashes aside and allow them to cool. During the squash cooling period, heat the olive oil over medium high heat and saute the shallots and apples until softened. Remove the shallots and apples from the pan and squeeze the sausages out of their casings and into the pan. Cook the sausage fully and then add in the apple/shallot mixture. Add the thyme, salt and pepper and cook for another five minutes.
When the acorn squashes have cooled, carefully scoop out their flesh while preserving their “casing”. Add the squash flesh to the sausage mixture, stirring to incorporate it evenly. Spoon the sausage mixture back into each acorn squash casing (there will be more than enough of the sausage mixture to evenly stuff all the acorns) and serve!
Roasted Butternut Squash Cheesecake
For the filling:
4 eight ounce packages of cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon vanilla
½ cup whipping cream
1 ½ cups roasted butternut squash flesh, whipped
For the roasted butternut squash flesh:
1 butternut squash, halved with the seeds removed
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon pumpkin spice
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
For the crust:
8 tablespoons butter, melted
25 to 35 Vanilla Wafers
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Place the Vanilla Wafers in a food processor and pulse until pulverized. Combine the melted butter and Vanilla Wafers in a bowl. Press the mixture into a greased 9 inch springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes, checking to make sure the crust does not burn. Set the crust aside while you make the filling.
Cut the squash in half and place in a roasting pan. Brush the halves with melted butter and sprinkle with the pumpkin spice and brown sugar. Roast the squashes for approximately 45 minutes or until the flesh is tender. Allow the squash to cool before scooping out the flesh. Whip the flesh until no longer lumpy with a whisk and set aside.
Combine the cream cheese, sugar and cornstarch in a stand mixer and cream together on low until the mixture is smooth. Increase the speed to medium and add in the vanilla, eggs, squash flesh and the cream. Continue beating until the batter is smooth and creamy. Pour the batter into the springform pan. Place the pan in a water bath (a large shallow pan filled partially with hot water) and bake the cake for an hour. After an hour, gently shake the springform pan to see if the center jiggles. If the center does jiggle, continue baking for another ten minutes. Check again to see if the center jiggles and if it does, continue baking for another ten minutes. Repeat this procedure until the cheesecake no longer jiggles in the center. Be careful not to burn the top of the cheesecake by rotating the pan in the oven each time you check the center. Once finished baking, remove the springform pan from the water bath and allow the cheesecake to cool completely. Refrigerate the cake for at least 6 hours (preferably overnight) before serving.