By Chef Judi Gallagher –
Fall is here! I can start bundling up in cozy sweaters, break out my long-neglected boots and drink hot beverages in the afternoon. I love Fall. Even though I’m a Connecticut Yankee by birth and spent glorious autumns in New England growing up, going to culinary school there and owning my first restaurants in the Northeast, I live in the South now and I can tell you we feel the change of seasons too. Fall is everywhere – a state of mind and a state of agriculture as restaurants and home cooks all across the country celebrate the seasonal bounty of Fall.
Suddenly have a whole crop of new foods to cook with. I’ll miss you, corn and watermelon—I really will—but I’m excited to replace you with pumpkin and hearty squash. As the days grow shorter, it’s easy to want to come home from work and hunker down on the couch with a plate of food. Why not make that plate of food something vegetable-laden and healthy?
Pumpkin is one of my favorite foods on this earth to eat (and whole pumpkins aren’t as hard to cook with as you might think). The possibilities are endless: Pumpkin pie, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin soup — I could go on. But the best thing about orange foods — and this is what I tell myself as I take that extra bite of pie — is that orange foods are super high in antioxidants, particularly beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A and which may help guard against cancer. If that’s not a reason to eat orange vegetables (including butternut squash and sweet potatoes), I don’t know what is.
When you’re cooking with pumpkins, don’t buy the bigger ones, no matter how tempting they may be. Huge ones are for decorating and putting on the porch. Instead, look for pumpkins labeled “pie pumpkins” or similar. Smaller cooking pumpkins are fleshier, less watery and — bonus — sweeter. And try to use pure pumpkin as opposed to canned when possible.
Speaking of squash, butternut squash is a health superstar. It’s low in fat, high in fiber (read: heart-friendly), potassium, vitamin B6 and folate. Like pumpkin, it’s high in beta-carotene and other antioxidants, which may help reduce inflammation. So make yourself a big cup of butternut squash soup if your joints are sore from shoveling leaves or snow this winter.
When you’re picking some up at the grocery store, look for matte skin (that means the meat is sweeter), and then store pumpkin and squash in a cool, dry place with lots of ventilation—if you do so, your squash will keep for up to three months. Cut squash stays good in the fridge for up to a week.
What are your favorite fall squash recipes? Happy eating.
3 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
½ cup peeled and diced shallots
1 tablespoon peeled, ginger minced
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
4 ½ cups chicken stock
¾ cup honey
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ cup crisp fried bacon, chopped, for garnish
Yogurt, a dollop for garnish (optional)
Preheat over to 350 degrees. Combine squash with shallots, ginger and garlic in a small roasting pan. Add oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and cover. Roast for about 40 minutes or until very tender. Stir chicken stock into hot squash mixture. Working in batches, puree mixture to the consistency of soup in a food processor. Transfer soup to saucepan. Stir in ½ cup honey along with cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. To serve, ladle hot soup into warm bowls. Garnish with bacon and a dollop of plain yogurt.