As I was making my way to the Union Square Farmers’ Market a few days ago, I noticed something: my coat wasn’t fully zipped up, my scarf was loose around my neck, and though there was a breeze in the air, I wasn’t bracing myself every time the wind rattled. February, it seems, is only forgiving in that it passes quickly. Though I dare not say that we’re out of winter’s clutches just yet, on this particularly brisk-but-not-cold day, I was comforted by the thought that winter, though at times brutal, is not in fact a dead end. Spring is merely weeks away.
With this passing fancy in mind, I began to feel a kind of nostalgia wash over me. Looking at the strapping winter produce available at my surprisingly-not-frostbitten fingertips, I felt like I was saying goodbye to old friends. Pretty soon the stalls of kale, potatoes, cabbage, and root vegetables would be replaced with spring’s asparagus, ramps, ripe rhubarb and luscious leeks. As the seasons change in the Northeast so does what we eat (or at least it should!), and spring offers perhaps the most exciting seasonal harvest transformation. From earthen and heavy, to bright and blithe, spring’s bounty is always a welcome relief in the kitchen and on the waistline, and yet, standing among winter’s hearty soldiers I heard myself take a wistful sigh, thinking about this season soon to be gone-by.
Taking stock of the sturdy vegetables before me, I caught sight of the holy trinity of winter squash: butternut, acorn and spaghetti. These vegetables, loaded with complex carbohydrates and fiber, can make for filling side dishes or satisfying meals in and of themselves. As they are about to go the way of the melting snow, certain not to return until the far side of this year’s calendar, I found myself reminiscing about my favorite ways to eat squash…
The acorn squash’s dark green skin, replete with longitudinal lines and the occasional splash of yellow, hides a light orange flesh that is tender and slightly sweet. My favorite way to eat it is simply cut in half and roasted upside down in a water bath to soften its tender flesh. After about at hour in its bain-marie, I dump the water, turn the squash right side up and fill it with enough butter, salt and brown sugar to trick my taste buds into thinking it’s dessert.
My eye moved down the line of at the bustling market stall, only to be caught by rows of chubby butternut squash. This dark beige fruit (yes, squash is technically a fruit) is particularly versatile, its sweet flesh accommodating most types of cooking. There is nothing more satisfying, or decadent, though, than my bowl of my creamy butternut squash soup. Each slightly sweet, very velvety dish is garnished with quenelles of crème fraîche, a drizzle of fresh pressed olio nuovo olive oil, and crisp fried sage leaves glittering with sprinkles of alderwood smoked sea salt.
The final and perhaps most spectacular of the squash triumvirate is spaghetti squash. These innocent, pale yellow specimens are named for their texture: after being boiled, their meat resembles gleaming strands of eggy-yellow pasta. And if cutting carbs is what you’re after, spaghetti squash could easily replace its starchy namesake for those of you looking to scratch the gluten out of your diet. Just halve them, pop ‘em in a large pot of boiling water till al dente (about 10-12 minutes…just like pasta!) and set them to drip dry and cool before taking a fork to their flesh and pulling apart ribbons of squash. Up in Vermont over New Year’s, I treated my housemates to a room temperature salad made of strings of spaghetti squash tossed with barrel-aged feta cheese, toasted almonds and a pesto made of cerignola olives, scallions and meyer lemon. It was perhaps my favorite dish of the trip!
Recounting my squash memories, I couldn’t decide which one to choose for that evening’s dinner. Feeling as if I was being forced to pick a favorite between Taleggio and his future sibling, I decided not to decide and purchased all three varieties instead. Spring, after all, is right around the corner, and it was time to stock up on the dwindling winter harvest before it was all but squashed.