Squash are one of the most dynamic seasonal vegetables in Britain. Being the holidays, they contribute to a huge range of varieties, colours and sizes and yet we do little more than make pumpkin soup. Despite the fact they are easy to grow, we mostly seem to produce the ubiquitous orange-skinned pumpkin but there are in fact many different types.
Acorn, Banana, Butternut, Calabaza and Kabocha are just a few of the many colourful and exotic types used in cooking. Their marvellous tough shells protect them from perishing too quickly, which means they can be stored for long periods through winter. The slightly sweet, dense flesh can be used in savoury and sweet dishes and its versatility has made the humble squash a staple ingredient in traditional American cooking.
Although the Irish have been credited with introducing pumpkins to America, they were actually already cultivated and used by Native Americans. Long winters required food which could be stored until the snows thawed and pumpkin and squashes were ideal. Consequently they have a long tradition of cooking with pumpkins and have developed an amazing range of recipes.
Pumpkins are part of many American celebrations – Halloween, of course, but also Thanksgiving, representing the first successful harvest of the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1621. They made a spicy pumpkin custard flavoured with maple syrup, a truly innovative creation which is still popular today.
Butternut Squash Filled with Peanut and Parsnips
2 small butternut squash
1 tbsp light olive oil
2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
50g unsalted butter
salt and black pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
half tsp ground cumin
half tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
Preheat the oven to 180ºC, 350ºF or gas 4. Wipe and dry the squash and halve length-ways, leaving the stalk in place. I use a rolling pin on the top of the knife to drive it through the tough skin. Scoop out the seeds and fibres and place on a baking tray, sprinkle the insides with with olive oil and roast in the oven for an hour. While the squash are in the oven, peel and roughly chop the parsnip and boil until soft. Drain the parsnip, place a tea towel towel over the pan, secure with a lid and set to one side.
Fry the onions in the olive oil until soft, add the cumin and cayenne and cook for another minute. Mash the parsnips with butter, salt and black pepper. Stir in the peanut butter and onion mixture. When the squash are cooked, remove as much of the flesh as possible without damaging the skin. Mix the pulp into the mashed parsnips and stir well. Adjust seasoning and add the fresh coriander. Pile the stuffing back into the shells and return the oven for another 10-15 minutes to warm through. Serve hot.