By Tina Wasserman
First came the pumpkins, used more for decoration than for eating (rightfully so if we’re talking about jack-o’-lanterns). Then the new crop of squashes came to the market: acorn, honeynut, butternut, “pie” pumpkins, delicata, kabocha, spaghetti squash and more to explore. These are all similar in that their flesh is sweet and colorful and some, like the delicata, have skin that is edible, so no peeling required. Speaking about peeling, listen to me and spend the few cents of extra change on cubed butternut squash instead of buying a whole one. The shape of the butternut makes it harder to peel with a vegetable peeler and right under the skin is a very slippery, moist barrier that increases the chance that the squash will slip out of your hands.
Squashes can be roasted, microwaved, boiled or stuffed and baked. They can be sliced and roasted with other vegetables and seasonings, microwaved or baked in doughs or custards. Here are a few tidbits:
• Microwave spaghetti squash after placing it in a gallon plastic storage bag. If you can, partially close the bag and then microwave it on high for 12 minutes. Because this squash contains more water than most edible squashes, the squash tends to explode during cooking even if pierced with a fork. Take my word for it, cleaning up the interior of a microwave oven strewn with squash is no fun!
• Bake whole squash for soups. If you are scooping out the meat of the squash after it is cooked and using it in soups, why not forgo peeling and slicing and just bake the squash until it seems easy to squeeze? Allow the squash to cool before removing seeds and pureeing the pulp. If you are pressed for time or impatient, just remember that very hot steam will be released when you cut into the flesh.
• Pie pumpkins are small and round and have flesh that is more like butternut and not watery at all. One year there was a significant shortage of canned pumpkin and people tried to make their own at home; you can’t do it with a big pumpkin because it’s watery and stringy, so you need the pie pumpkins that are small and perfectly round. The markets call these pumpkins pie pumpkins because they have flesh that cooks down smooth and thick.
Vegan Sweet Potato Biscuits
Adapted from a recipe found in the Washington Post
People often ask me about alternative foods for dinner guests who are vegetarians or vegans. I really like this recipe because it is very subtle with the use of spice and is very moist. I include it here because the cooked pulp of a butternut or honeynut squash or even pumpkin puree could be substituted for the sweet potato. See the Tidbits for other reasons to include this on your holiday menu.
- 1 large, sweet potato (about 12-14 ounces), baked until soft
- ½ cup full-fat coconut milk or cream
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon salt
1. Peel and mash the sweet potato until smooth. Add ¼ cup of the coconut milk. Stir to combine and then refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until very cold.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. In a 3-quart bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients.
4. Using a fork, mix the sweet potato mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. Don’t overmix. If the mixture appears dry, then add more of the reserved coconut milk 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough holds together.
5. Lightly flour a board or your counter. Lightly flour your hands and gently press the dough together to form a rectangle that is 1 inch thick.
6. Cut the dough into 2-inch rounds and place on the prepared pan at least 1 inch apart.
7. Brush the tops of the biscuits with any remaining coconut milk and bake for 12-15 minutes until puffed and bottom is lightly browned.
8. Eat warm or at room temperature. Store in a plastic bag or lidded container for up to 3 days.
• Be sure to use a fresh sweet potato for this recipe. Older ones bake up too dry.
• Make sure you don’t use canned sweet potatoes because they are in liquid and would be too wet to use. However, I have seen cans of sweet potato puree and that might work, but the flavor will be a little “dull.”
• If you use any substitute for the baked sweet potato, then be aware that you might have to use slightly more flour and/or coconut milk to get a firm but light consistency in your dough.
• You can make this recipe ahead at different steps.
• Bake the potato the day before (if it sits in the refrigerator for too many days the potato dries out and becomes firm).
• Mix the mashed potato with the coconut milk and refrigerate it for as long as overnight. This allows the coconut milk to blend and congeal with the potato so that the dough is easy to handle.
• The cut biscuit rounds can be frozen on a lined baking sheet and then placed in a freezer bag. Place frozen biscuit disks on a lined baking sheet and bake for 18-20 minutes.
• I have made these biscuits with gluten-free flour, and they are still moist, but a little denser. These should be served soon after baking or they will become dry.
Libyan Spiced Squash Dip
There was a large Jewish community in Libya until the early 1950s, when many Jews left after attacks became prevalent due to Arab uprisings against the formation of the state of Israel. Many Libyan Jews went to Italy, where a vibrant community exists to this day.
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 20 ounces cubed, peeled butternut squash or peeled pie pumpkin
- 1½ teaspoons ground cumin (or to taste)
- 1 teaspoon hot paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon curry powder
- 1 Serrano pepper
- 2 small Campari tomatoes, diced (about 3 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
- Juice of half a lemon or to taste
- Kosher salt to taste
1. Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat for 10 seconds. Add the oil and heat for another 10 seconds. Add the onion and then the garlic and sauté until onion is translucent but not beginning to brown.
2. Add the cubed squash. Stir and then cover for 10 minutes. Turn down heat if you think the squash is sticking to the pan. Squash won’t be completely cooked.
3. Add the dried spices to the pan and stir for 2 minutes.
4. Slice the Serrano down the center lengthwise then slice very fine widthwise. Do not remove the seeds unless you want this mixture to be less spicy.
5. Add the diced Serranos, tomatoes and tomato paste to the squash. Cook for another 2-5 minutes until the squash is tender and the tomato has broken down.
6. Add the lemon juice and sugar to add a very subtle sweet/sour taste.
7. Add salt to bring out the flavors. Gently mash the mixture with a fork, leaving some larger chunks of squash.
8. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold with pita or laffa bread.
• This is a colorful addition to an assortment of “dips” to serve with vegetables or breads.
• Jalapeño may be substituted, but never use more than one-half unless you want the mixture to be very spicy.
• This recipe is very easy if you start with store-bought cubed butternut squash. Most containers are 20 ounces, which is why I suggested that amount in the ingredients list. I’ve noticed that almost every store now provides the cut version for its customers.
Ravioli con Zucca Barruca
(Pumpkin Ravioli from Mantua)
During the Renaissance, the Jews lived very well in Mantua under the Gonzaga duchy. They were very familiar with pumpkin because of New World exploration and the Portuguese and Marrano connections throughout the world. Although this dish is very popular in restaurants throughout the world right now, it is a 500-year-old recipe.
- 2 pounds fresh pie pumpkin or butternut squash OR 1 pound canned pumpkin puree
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup Italian amaretti cookies (about 2 ounces)
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ cup raisins (soaked in hot water for 15 minutes if too dry and hard)
- Sugar to taste
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons dried plain breadcrumbs
- 1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tablespoons water for sealing dough
- 1 stick butter, melted
- ¼ cup chiffonade of fresh mint
1. To prepare the pumpkin, roast the whole pumpkin or squash in a 400-degree oven for 50 minutes or until the vegetable is soft. Cool and cut in half and remove all seeds and stringy fibers. Scoop the meat of the squash into a strainer set in a sink and mash with a fork until smooth.
2. If puree is watery, spread the puree on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes or until it appears dry. Let cool before using, or use 1 pound of canned pumpkin and proceed with the recipe.
3. In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin with the next 7 ingredients and set aside while you make the dough.
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons ice water
2 cups bread flour
1. Place eggs in the food processor work bowl. Add the olive oil and the water and mix by turning the processor on and off twice.
2. Add 1 cup of the flour and turn the processor on for 5 seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl.
3. Add the other cup of flour and process for 10 seconds longer; dough will be crumbly. Pinch a little bit of dough; if it holds together, it is ready to be rolled.
4. Remove the dough and divide in half. Place on a lightly floured surface, cover and allow to rest for 10 minutes, or longer if you are rolling dough by hand. Make pasta according to machine directions. Cut dough into 3-inch rounds or use a ravioli form.
5. Place 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of each circle or each template on the ravioli form. Brush a little of the egg yolk mixed with water on the edges of the dough and cover with another circle of dough (or sheet if using the ravioli plate). Press firmly from the filling outward to remove any air trapped in the middle and seal the dough.
6. Bring a large pot of salted water, to which 1 tablespoon of oil has been added, to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente. Fresh pasta will cook in as little as 3 minutes. Drain and place in a large serving bowl.
7. Melt butter until lightly brown. Drizzle brown butter on top of ravioli and sprinkle with the fresh mint chiffonade.
• Although fresh pie pumpkin has a more distinct flavor, canned pumpkin will work if you are short on time.
• Bread flour has a higher gluten content and will create a dough similar to using semolina flour.
• Never use salt in the pasta dough. It will make the dough tough and hard to roll.
• Although thinner, wonton skins may be substituted for the dough.
• To chiffonade an herb, stack the leaves, roll tight like a cigarette and then thinly slice crosswise through the roll. The herbs will be thin strands that float when sprinkled on the dish…like chiffon!