The versatility of orange-fleshed winter squashes is on display during Thanksgiving and Hanukkah festivities. In a region where the change from one season to another is subtle, the appearance of market displays laden with multiple varieties of squash is a marker of fall in Southern California. A few of the available varieties of squash during fall and winter months are: Acorn, Butternut, Delicata, Hubbard, Turban, Kabocha, Sugar Pumpkin and Carnival Squash.
Whether the squash is large or small, with dense, grainy or fluffy flesh, and colored from yellow to deep orange, they all share a signature flavor of honeyed sweetness tempered with vegetal notes. Over the past decade, cooks have looked beyond simple roasted or mashed variations to use the beautiful color of the vegetable as a base for a canvas of condiment splashes, drizzles and sprinkles to great effect both visually and flavor-wise.
The kings of this technique are Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi and their test kitchen collaborators. If you google “Ottolenghi, squash,” a collection of dishes comes up that include Braised Squash with Chickpeas and Harissa; Rough Squash Mash with Miso, Chilli and Cinnamon; and Butternut Squash With Chile Yogurt and Cilantro Sauce.
Every one of their books has at least one squash recipe. They use pantry items that are probably languishing in your cupboard to create bold strokes of flavor, like za’atar and smoked paprika. Streaks of dairy enrich the dishes like yogurt spiked with chile. Often gem-like pomegranate arils finish off a plate with color, acid and crunch.
Of course I have certain dishes I make every year when the orange beauties show up at the markets. From my own recipe repertoire, there is Butternut Squash Lasagne with Fontina and Bechamel. It’s luxurious without being too rich and makes an impressive main course for vegetarians. As always, a sure fire main course option is Dorie Greenspan’s Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good, which is basically a strata of bread, greens and cheese that souffles up in the oven. If you prefer a rice-stuffed pumpkin as the ultimate side, here is an Armenian option called Ghapama (Ղափամա).
The great thing about stuffed pumpkins is that you can make one as big or as small as you need for your group. Adjust fillings according to the size of the squash cavity.
And of course you can use any winter squash to make latkes. They will be sweeter than potato latkes and taste marvelous accompanied with a drizzle of maple syrup.