Winter Squash


Look at those gorgeous blossoms!

This is the time of year when the winter squash in my garden are coloring and moving toward maturity. Well, some of them are. You may not know that many plants in the cucurbita family are actually short-lived perennials. In their native territories, they happily go on pumping out flowers and fruits for months on end. In my garden, frost brings an end to such endeavors, but the plant doesn’t know that. If you grow winter squash, when frost hits you’ll typically still have lots of blossoms and immature fruit on the vines. You can get a lot more food value by preparing for the cold season and eating both blossoms and fruits before cold weather arrives. This also allows the plant to put more energy into the more mature squash on the vines.

Growing Winter Squash

The vines of such squash varieties as Butternut, Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck and Hubbard need a long growing season (many require four full months), fertile soil, full sun and LOTS of water to produce well. You can grow squash in a dryland garden (Native Americans did it for thousands of years) but it takes a lot more space and you get a lower yield. However, the flavor may be better. By the way, everything I say here applies to pumpkins as well as winter squash – there really isn’t any great difference between the two. So Amish Pie, Connecticut Field and Howden pumpkins are really just squash by another name.

Squash Blossoms on Your Plate

The classic culinary use for squash blossoms is to fry them in a light batter – they make great tempura. But you can also stuff them with other veggies and various kinds of cheese, make soup or turn them into fritters. Slice them and cook with scrambled eggs, use them to top pizza, stir fry, mix with pasta or add them to lasagna. This is an ingredient you are unlikely to find at a grocery store, although the blossoms sometimes show up at a farmer’s market. Very fragile and perishable, they are much better harvested from the garden and taken straight into the kitchen. Be sure to remove the pistil and stalk to prevent an off taste.

Immature Squash Fruits

You can use the immature fruits just as you would summer squash – saute, stir fry or roast with good olive oil, salt and garlic. Slightly larger fruits should be sliced thin and fried. Immature winter squash slices also make good tempura. One caveat – unlike those of mature squashes, immature squash seeds don’t taste very good. They are often bitter or have an off taste, and they are usually tough.

Winter Squash Recipes

Squash Blossom Soup (Crema de Flor de Calabaza)

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large white onion, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 small Yukon gold potato, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 24 large squash blossoms
  • 2 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, deseeded and chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • Kernels from 1 large ear of corn
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche or heavy cream
  • Kosher salt
  • Epazote or flat leaf parsley (my preference), chopped

In a medium, heavy-bottomed pot, warm butter over medium heat. Once foaming, add chopped onion, stirring to coat. Cook until the onions are lightly golden, stirring occasionally (about 6 minutes). Scoop out half of the onions and set aside. Add chicken stock and chopped potato to the pot and bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, drop down the heat to medium-low and simmer partially covered for 20 minutes. While the broth is simmering, prep the squash blossoms. Break off the stems, peel off the sepals (the small, wavy leaves that grown from the bases and pluck out the stamen. Discard stems, sepals and stamen. Divide blossoms into two even piles then slice into 1/4 inch strips (including the bulbous base). Add one pile of slices to the simmering stock and cook for 3 minutes. Blend the mixture until smooth. Add the chopped, roasted poblano, milk and reserved onion to the soup, stirring to combine. Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes, then add zucchini and corn. Simmer for another 3 minutes, then add the other pile of sliced squash blossoms. Continue simmering for 2 minutes, then take the mixture off of the heat. Stir in crème fraîche and season to taste with kosher salt. Serve in soup bowls and finish with a sprinkling of chopped epazote or flat leaf parsley.

Zucchini Blossom Fritters

  • 7-8 squash blossoms
  • 1 clove garlic {peeled + sliced}
  • 1 tablespoon olive or coconut oil
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves {plus more for garnish}
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Coconut oil or lard for frying

Prepare the squash blossoms by inspecting each flower for dirt, or bugs (little critters do like to hide inside them). Give them a gentle rinse with water, and dry with paper towels. Remove the pistil from inside each flower. Remove the little green spikes from around the stem of the flowers. Saute the blossoms in a skillet over medium high heat with the garlic and olive oil until softened and lightly browned. Remove from the skillet and chop coarsely. Transfer to a bowl, and add in the chopped basil leaves, Parmesan cheese, egg and milk. Use a fork to gently beat the ingredients together. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl, and stir to combine. The mixture should be slightly thicker than a pancake batter. If needed, add in a bit more milk. Put enough lard or coconut oil into a skillet to coat the bottom by about 1/4″; heat over medium high heat. Scoop the batter by the heaping tablespoonful and drop into the hot oil. Use the back of a spoon to flatten each fritter slightly. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip the fritter over and brown the other side. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Sprinkle lightly with some coarse salt and chopped fresh basil. Serve hot.

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