Although butternut squash is rightly famous, and available at every supermarket, some of the winter squashes have not yet had their five minutes in the spotlight.
We think it’s time to put this right. Winter squashes can be just as sweet, just as firm, and just as delicious as their summer counterparts. Try our recipe to get started, and you might just be growing your own winter squash next year’
Growing Winter Squash
Growing winter squash is surprisingly easy. Although this huge fruit looks as though it came from the Med, it is quite happy to grow in our British climate.
What the plants do like is lots of homemade compost so, a couple of months before planting (ie Feb‐March), dig a shallow trench across your intended squash bed.
Fill it with uncomposted kitchen waste by the bagful – vegetable peelings, shredded cardboard and grass can all go straight in. Then cover with at least 5cm of soil and leave until May. (Covering the patch is a good idea – use old carpet or cardboard, as this covering will prevent weeds from germinating and warm up the soil a bit more.)
Some good winter squashes are Queensland Blue, Red Kuri, and Crown Prince. All three can be cured for winter storage. Sow in April in individual pots (preferably biodegradable) and then plant out in May, giving the plants lots of space – these are spreaders.
When the fruits form in mid summer, put pieces of carpet or card beneath them to prevent them from rotting and increase warmth. Once one or two fruits have formed on a plant, nip out the growing stem to focus energy on ripening those fruits.
Then simply leave them until the first frosts are predicted. You’ll need to harvest them before any frost strikes. Put the fruits on a greenhouse shelf or a windowsill to let them ripen up and cure the skin. When the outer rind is hard, they can be stored – or left in place.
Preparing Winter Squash
O.K What’s with the tough skin? Winter squashes are ‘cured’ to give them an extremely hard rind. It’s this that makes them such great keepers. Put a winter squash in a cool spot that’s not too warm or too humid, and it will be perfectly preserved for months.
But this tough skin has its drawbacks, too. Most winter squashes cannot be peeled with an ordinary vegetable peeler. Instead you may have to slice the skin away from the flesh. To make this easier, put the squash onto a chopping board and quarter it before tackling the skin.
Though the skin is only good for composting, the inner seeds can be reserved to make crunchy pepitas. Scrape out the seeds and soft inner fibres – you want the firm flesh for the recipes below.
Squash Stuffed with Leeks
Stuffed squash is a versatile supper dish that you’ll come to love. Just bake your squash, then scoop out the flesh and mix it with cheese, nuts, vegetables or rice – then return to the oven to bake the filling. The presentation is neat and the taste is sensational! Choose any squash: if you have some smaller squashes, just slice off the tops and serve one per person.
- 1 medium winter squash (about 1kg), unpeeled
- 2tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 2 leeks, washed and sliced
- 2tbsp crème fraiche
- 4tbsp Pecorino, finely grated
- A drizzle of Truffle Oil (optional)
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Cut the squash in half horizontally to give two dish‐shaped halves. If they don’t sit level, trim the bottoms so that they do. Scoop out the seeds and fibres from the middles and discard. Drizzle with oil and add salt and pepper, then bake the squash halves for 30‐40 minutes or until tender. Take out of the oven.
Meanwhile, soften the leek slices in a pan. Cool and mix them with the crème fraiche and pecorino. Scoop out about half of the cooked squash flesh, add it to the leek mixture and mash gently. Stuff this mixture back into the squash halves and drizzle with truffle oil. Bake for another 15 minutes or until golden on top.