Butternut Squash Bolognese Sauce with Veal: Recipe #9
Plus, my best tips for preparing all kinds of squash.
A man’s palate can, in time, become accustomed to anything.
I did not love squash as a child. Who doesn’t at that tender age? I didn’t like Miles Davis, Akira Kurosawa movies, regular season pitching duels, Henry James, or Nineteenth century American art either. But I grew to love them all.
Hard shell winter squash, like any other timeless classic, was an acquired taste.
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Now I can’t let go. When it comes to vegetables, it is the seasonal waiting that makes the tasting so sublime. The first squash of the early fall ranks right up there with the first berries of summer. Squash cooks up with a forgiveness that most other vegetables lack, is adaptable to any cooking treatment, and when it comes to pedigree may not have a rival in the vegetable kingdom.
And everyone forgets that February is an ideal time for squash, and with Valentine’s Day coming up, you can make this dish for your loved one, your family or whomever is dropping by on the 14th.
Squash is one of the world’s oldest known cultivated foods.
A native to North America, prized by indigenous peoples from Canada to Chile, and the ever lasting fascination of European botanists and horticulturists. There are five domesticated, and roughly 20 wild, varietals that are most prevalent in the modern food world. The majority of the world’s 132 most popular cultivars are native to Mexico; the squash story did not begin at Plymouth Rock.
The five major domesticants of the squash liturgy have been farmed for the last 15,000 years. Native first peoples of the Americas bred the small, wild green and white pepos into colorful and shapely pumpkins, gourds and winter squash. They were fast growing, with edible seeds and tough rinds that when dried made fabulous containers. As they bred the squash thicker and larger to make bigger vessels, they found the flesh became tender, less fibrous and much tastier. The fruit, seeds, vines, leaves and flowers were all edible. From this point on, squash became a culinary necessity of the ancient food world.
In the indigenous aboriginal world, most squash was simply rolled into the coals of a dying fire and eaten when soft. Eventually it was boiled or steamed, seasoned simply with a sweet. The Sioux of the Dakotas sliced and skewered squash on willow branches and dried them over open fires. The precursor of the colonial pumpkin pie was a Massachusetts Indian treat of whole winter squash, decapitated and stuffed with dried fruit, nuts, spices and raw milk, baked in a fire. Squash seeds have been toasted and eaten for as long as we know. Seeds have been ground and used in thickening of soups and stews, or used medicinally for curing ulcers or dispelling gastrointestinal parasites.
The domesticated Cucurbita Pepo was taken to Europe by the first travelers to the New World. Soon, zucchini, acorn squash and pumpkin became all the rage of European kitchens.
Today, squash is divided into summer and winter varieties.
The dividing line between the two corresponds to differences in use rather than divisions between the 4 botanical species of the Cucurbita family. Winter squash, Cucurbita Maxima, can be stored long term when fully mature on the vine. The skins are very hard. Summer squash is picked when immature on the vine and has a short-term, post harvest life span. Summer squash is quick cooking, winter squash is not. The flavor of winter squash is infinitely more complex than it’s summertime cousins. After all, who can really ‘love’ the taste of a zucchini?
Squash classification reminds me of the Godfather movies, it’s the story of families. Instead of the Corleones, Barzini’s and Tattaglia’s we have the Maximas (Hubbard and Buttercup), Mixta (Cushaws, Silver Edge and so on), Moschata (Butternut, Calabaza, most pumpkins) and Pepo (acorns and most summer squash).
Nutritionally, mature squash is loaded with carbohydrates, low in fat, calories and protein.
The most significant dietary contribution comes from unusually high concentrations of carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A. 90% of the RDA of Vitamin A, 16% of vitamin C and 12% of potassium is found in ½ cup of cooked winter squash. Cancer fighting compounds like flavonoids, sterols and monoterpenes are all found in high levels in squash. The seeds however have the highest concentrations of all these healthful benefits, contain 35% protein, and are high in potassium, phosphorous and magnesium counts.
Squash can be roasted whole, in halves or in pieces, stuffed, fried (it makes a great tempura), grilled and brushed with sweet glazes, boiled, steamed for pan browning or mashing, or any other way you can come up with. Try the squash gnocchi (recipe below), serve it to some friends you care deeply about, and then tell me if any of you will ever look at squash in the same way again.
Some random thoughts…
Buy firm and blemish free winter squash, storing in a very cool dark place.
Peel flat skinned winter squash with a paring knife, ribbed winter squash with a large serrated knife.
Cooked and pureed winter squash can be frozen long term without detriment.
Grind toasted seeds for seasoning chili or moles and baked goods like breads and muffins.
Try slicing and grilling winter squash, brushing with yakitori glaze before taking off the grill.
Try making Jack O’ Lanterns the traditional way, with over sized squash of all colors, shapes and sizes.
Puree any winter squash varietals and season with maple syrup and bourbon, pie spices or curry spices.
Saute cubed winter squash like you would potato hash browns, and season with onions and rosemary.
Try to get your hands on some Japanese Kabocha squash. It has an easy to peel turban shape and may be the tastiest and sweetest of all winter varietals.
Spaghetti squash (here’s a great recipe), a strain invented 1930, can be baked and the strands of flesh scraped from the skin, then seasoned to your taste. It’s unusual flesh stands up well to baking in a gratin with tomatoes, thyme and pecorino Romano cheese.
Butternut Squash Bolognese Sauce with Veal
1 pound diced fresh veal, from the leg, breast or shoulder, cut into small 1/4-inch by 1/4-inch dice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices Nueske’s Bacon, minced
16 ounces canned chopped tomatoes
2 cups dry white wine
1 quart veal, beef or rich chicken stock
Bouquet garni (aka a bunch of herbs tied together) of fresh sage, parsley and bay leaves
2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
1/2 cup minced carrots
1/2 cup minced celery
3T sliced garlic cloves
1/2 cup minced onions
1 cup heavy cream, plus some more in reserve
3 cups diced butternut or acorn squash… or other hard winter squash varietal.
Place the olive oil and the bacon in a large pot over medium heat.
When bacon is half way crisped, push to the side and add the veal.
Brown the veal and add the herbs, celery, onion, carrot and garlic.
Cook for 5 minutes and add the wine.
Simmer until reduced by half.
Add the tomatoes and reduce liquids by half.
Add the stock and simmering, cook for 20 minutes reducing by 25%.
Add the squash pieces and continue simmering for another 20 minutes to reduce another 25%.
Add the cream, bring to a strong simmer and continue cooking until sauce has thickened.
Season with sea salt and white pepper and remove bouquet garni.
Serve over the gnocchi or over your favorite sturdy pasta such as rigatoni, ziti or penne.
1.5 pounds russet potatoes
2 pounds cubed winter squash…acorn, butternut, etc.
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 bulb garlic
2 tablespoons minced parsley
3 cups all purpose flour, plus a little more on hand
Preheat an oven to 300 degrees, cut the top 10%, the cap, off the garlic bulb and discard.
Place the garlic bulb into a small oven proof container or aluminum foil and roast for 2 hours.
Remove and let rest at room temperature.
Squeeze out the roasted garlic from the paper that holds it to the root, mash with a fork and reserve.
Clean and prick the skin of the potatoes.
Turn the heat up to 350 degrees and place the potatoes into an oven-proof container and cook until done.
Remove at once, cut in half, scoop out the potato flesh and pass through a ricer or food mill into a large work bowl.
Steam the squash over a medium boil until tender, pass through a food mill.
Add the potatoes, 3T of roasted garlic, the ricotta, parsley, egg and egg yolk.
Add 2 cups of the flour and mix quickly using 2 or 3 forks held in your hand, let the fork tines ‘pull’ the ‘dough’ into a pile of small clumps. Add flour a little at a time until dough holds together when pinched.
Gather dough into a ball and let rest for several minutes.
Roll out onto a floured work surface and cut into fifths, roll each piece by hand into a long ‘hot dog’.
Cut every ½ inch using a pastry bench knife.
Freeze on a sheet pan and bag for later use…or cook in rapidly boiling salted water until dumplings float. Then cook for 75 more seconds.
Drain and serve.
Serve the gnocchi and sauce in bowls. Season with freshly ground black pepper and parmesan Reggiano.
What’s your favorite way to eat squash? Favorite variety? Share in the comments!
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