What to Do with Not-Quite-Ripe Winter Squash? Recipes Included

My ‘Honeynut’ winter squash got a late start in the garden this year, and that, coupled with our cold, wet fall, left me with a big pile of not-quite-ripe squash. It’s not that the squash are not ripe enough to eat—although some are pretty green—they are just not ripe enough to store over a long period.

Butternut squash is the only winter squash I grow in my small urban garden, and Honeynut is by far my favorite variety. The plants sprawl like other squash, but they are extremely productive and the fruits are delicious. In the past, I’ve followed standard squash procedure, curing them outside on warm fall days, and then storing them for a few months in a cool spot in the basement. (My experience is that well-cured, ripe squash will keep until mid-January in a typical, unfinished basement in Minnesota. After that, it’s time to cook it off.)

But what to do with squash that is not ripe? You can continue to ripen unripe squash by bringing them inside, washing them off and putting them in a sunny spot. You watch them carefully, turning them occasionally until they reach the proper color for eating. About 10 of my unripe squash are currently taking the indoor sun cure. I will report later how they do.

squash on table
Not-quite-ripe squash bask in the indoor sun.

Three of the squash had some knicks in them, so they will be used in my fall mum pot for Halloween.

The rest I decided to cook. (Two recipes follow)

Roasted Honeynut Squash Half-Moons

Turn the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut off the tops and bottoms of a squash, then peel it and remove the seeds. Cut it in half and cut the halves into slices. (Mine are about 1/4 of an inch thick, but would have been better thinner.) Place the halves in a single layer on a sheet pan and sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over it. Move the slices around to coat. Add a generous shake of salt and pepper. Slide the pan into the oven and roast for 20 minutes. Squash is not as dry as potatoes, for example, so it may be a bit mushy. An alternative would be to cut the squash into 1-inch cubes and roast it that way. Thinner slices will dry and crisp more and taste more chip-like.

Steaming the Squash and Muffins!

squash muffins on plate
The finished muffins.

The rest of the squash I steamed so it could be easily mashed and frozen. To steam it, I set a steamer rack in a large soup pot with an inch or two of water in it. I cut the squash into halves, leaving the skin on. Set the halves on the rack (about 2 squash per batch) and cover the pot. Steam for 25 to 35 minutes, depending on the size of the squash. You want to squash to be soft when you stick a fork in it so it can be easily mashed. Once cool, I packed the squash into quart size bags, two cups per bag. I flattened the bags on a cookie tray so they would freeze in an easy to store shape. Squash is a nutritious replacement for potatoes and a great addition to fall sweets.

Butternut squash are just one step away from pumpkin so I decided to make a batch of muffins with some of the steamed squash.

Honeynut Squash Muffins

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners or spray with nonstick spray.

Mixed together with a whisk:

2 cups all-purpose flour, unbleached

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

Set aside, and in a large bowl mix together:

2 eggs

1/4 cup canola oil (or melted butter)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cups mashed squash (or pumpkin)

Whisk the wet ingredients until thoroughly mixed. I use an immersion blender to make sure the squash strings and bits are incorporated. Then gently add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir to blend. (You could also add a half cup or so of raisins, chocolate chips or nuts at this point. I went plain.) Divide the mixture evenly among the 12 muffin cups and bake in the center of the oven for 18-22 minutes. These are not super sweet muffins, so if you like a bit more sweetness consider adding the raisins or even frosting the muffins.

Enjoy!

 

It’s Time for Some Pickling and Jamming

Fall seems to be rushing in here in Minnesota, which is all the more reason to preserve some of the garden harvest for enjoying over the winter.

This past weekend, I spent some time pickling and jamming, using vegetables from my own garden and a few I bought at the farmers’ market. Here’s the round up with links to all the recipes:

Pickled onions, bread and butter pickles, yellow tomato jam and a stray bottle of pickled red cabbage.
Pickled onions, bread and butter pickles, yellow tomato jam and a stray bottle of pickled red cabbage.

I’ve never pickled onions before, but both my Chicago daughter and our Northern Gardener Kitchen Garden columnist Rhonda Hayes tell me that they are all the rage on tacos, pulled pork and other foods that need a bit of zing. I had good luck this year growing these onions from Seed Savers Exchange. The mixture is super tart, but just right to brighten up a meaty sandwich.

I had half a head of red cabbage left from a salad I made so I decided to pickle that as well using the same method, but adding some raw ginger to the container. Ginger is a great companion to cabbage, adding a little heat to an otherwise bland vegetable.

Of course, I had to make a batch of Grandma Lahr’s Bread and Butter Pickles. Minnesotans like a sweeter pickle and these have just the right sweet-tart blend. I grew up eating these alongside a tuna or meat sandwich — yum!

Finally, I made a batch of this Yellow Tomato Jam, a sweet way to preserve the harvest. To me, this jam is like the first taste of fall because it has some of the spices of fall. If you like your tomatoes sweet, you may want to try this  recipe for a tomato peach pie!

The preserving is just starting here — my raspberries are ripening fast so I’ll be picking, freezing and eating them daily, and I have bunches of herbs to make into pesto and a sauce I call salty herb blend, which is great for putting in soups or on meats.

What are you preserving this fall (oops) summer?

From Container to Cookpot: A Squash Soup Story

soup 2Earlier this fall, I bought three nice squash from the Northfield Farmers Market to use in a fall container. When the weather turned cold (and then nasty) a week or so ago, I brought the squash in to put them to use in a soup. Squash are ornamental, and most are edible as well, so there was no reason to let the squash rot on the porch.

This soup turned out especially good and I think it’s in part because I had more than one kind of squash and because of the way they were prepared. The squash included a blue Hubbard squash, a red Kabocha squash and a buttercup squash. (Here’s a great guide to all things squash.)

I have been reading chef Alex Guarnaschelli’s book Old-School Comfort Food (Clarkson-Potter, 2013). For her squash soup, Guarnaschelli first roasts the squash with a rich coating of butter, sugar and molasses. I cut the butter by about half, but it was still plenty rich and delicious. After the roasting, I freelanced things and made a squash soup the way I normally would with onions, wine and warm spices. (Guarnaschelli’s soup sounds delicious, too, but this is my preferred recipe.) It turned out beautifully, elevating a simple soup and sandwich supper to gourmet levels. Of course, I served it with the red pepper relish that I make each fall.

That's a lot of squash!
That’s a lot of squash!

A couple of notes: 1) This is not a quick meal. Do it on a day when you will be hanging around the house for several hours. 2) The amounts of some of the ingredients are variable. Because I had lots of squash, I used six cups of cooked squash for the soup and the rest went into a squash custard. You may need more or less liquid depending on how big your squash are. 3) This soup calls for an immersion blender. If you don’t have one, you could mush up the soup with a potato masher or use a regular blender and blend the soup in batches, though I think that’s a bit dangerous. (Immersion blenders come at a variety of price points. Walmart has one for less than $15; if you spend $40,  you can have this nice one I got for my daughter when she got her first apartment.) It’s a good kitchen investment.

Squash Soup from a Container Garden

2-3 winter squash (your choice on type) If very large, you may only need one

5 TBSP butter, melted in a sauce pan

2 TBSP brown sugar

2 TBSP molasses

2 TBSP olive oil

1 large onion chopped

1 TBSP chopped garlic

1 jalapeno or other hot pepper diced finely (totally optional)

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp Garam masala

1 tsp cumin

Salt and pepper to taste (don’t skimp)

1/2 cup white wine (optional)

1-2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (or water)

Water as needed

1 cup (more or less) whole milk or half-and-half

Prepare the squash: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Also, check to make sure your oven shelves are far enough apart — especially if you have big squash. Wash the squash, then cut them into large pieces and scrape out the seeds. Place the pieces on large trays, preferably with a 1-2 inch lip, and drizzle the melted butter over them. Sprinkle on the sugar and molasses and some salt and pepper. Put a little water in the bottom of the pans to add some steam. Then cover it all with foil and crimp the edges around the pan. You want the squash to be semi-sealed in to prevent the sugars from browning too much. Bake for 90 minutes or more until the squash are soft. Take it out of the oven (carefully!!!) and let it cool so you can handle it.

The soup: Remove the squash flesh from the skins with a spoon or knife. For my soup, I used 6 cups of squash, but you could use more and just increase the liquid. Have your onion and garlic chopped and your spices ready. Put the oil in your soup pot and warm it slightly, add the onion and a bit of salt and pepper. Let it cook until it’s translucent. Then add the spices, garlic and hot pepper, if using, and let them cook for a minute or two. Pour in the wine and let all the goodness meld for about 2 minutes. Then, add your squash, the broth and enough water to just cover the squash. Bring it to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. (If your squash is not perfectly soft, it may need more time. If it is soft, less.)

Blend the soup. When everything is soft and smelling good, blend the soup with an immersion blender until smooth. You may need to add more water because it should be rather thick. Add in the milk (as much or little as you like) to get it to your preferred consistency. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or (my preference) some red pepper relish.

 

Recipe: Easy Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Ready for a long roast in a low oven.
Ready for a long roast in a low oven.

The tomato season is about to close, so about a week ago, I bought a nice batch of beautiful cherry tomatoes. I didn’t grow cherry tomatoes this year, but slow-roasted tomatoes are too good not to have on hand. They could not be easier to make either.

I poured about 3 tablespoons of olive oil on a cookie sheet, then rolled the tomatoes around in it so they were all covered. I salted them lightly and ground some pepper over them. You could also put a couple of cloves of garlic (in the skins) on the tray, too. Then I set the oven to 225 degrees, put the tomatoes in and forgot about them. About six hours later, they were soft and wrinkly. I put some in a jar and covered them with olive oil and put the rest in freezer bags for later use.

Yum!
Yum!

These are like candy. They make a great addition to a salad or slice some soft cheese on a cracker (gouda is good-a!) and top it with a tomato. Instant hors d’ourves elegance.

 

Recipe: Garden Ratatouille

For a simple ratatouille, you'll need onions, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, garlic and herbs.
For a simple ratatouille, you’ll need onions, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, garlic and herbs.

Ratatouille may be one of the most delicious late-summer garden recipes. Traditional ratatouille includes eggplant, zucchini, onions, peppers and tomatoes, but since the dish is essentially a vegetable stew, you could add green beans, yellow squash or anything else that is fresh and suits your fancy.

A while ago, I paid a visit to Sam Kedum’s Nursery in nearby Hastings to buy some tomatoes for preserving. While I have had a decent crop of tomatoes this year, it has not been huge and most of the tomatoes I grew were slicers that have been quickly consumed in salads and on BLT sandwiches. At the nursery, which includes a community-supported agriculture farm, I also bought cherry tomatoes for drying (recipe to come next week) and some peppers, eggplant and zucchini, which looked firm and delicious.

You can find lots of recipes for ratatouille on the web and mine is a modified version of Alice Waters’ take. Feel free to adjust vegetable and seasoning amounts to suit your own taste and veggie supply.

Ratatouille

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 onion, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 large or 2 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2-3 colored peppers, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

5 Roma tomatoes, cored, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 TBSP tomato paste

1/2 cup  white wine (optional, but tasty)

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Cut pieces about the same size.
Cut pieces about the same size.

Cut up the eggplant first, then salt the pieces and set them in a colander to drain for about 20 minutes. (Cut up the rest of the veggies while the eggplant is meditating.) After 20 minutes, rinse the eggplant and pat the cubes dry. Heat up a large pan — I love my big cast iron skillet — so that’s a good choice, if you have it. Add about half of the olive oil. Add the eggplant cubes in a single layer and cook for about 3 minutes. Then, move the pieces around for another 3 minutes and remove the eggplant from the pan. (It will be only semi cooked.)

Add a bit more of the oil to the pan and add the onions. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and cook the onions for about 4-5 minutes, stirring often until they are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Push the onion, garlic aside (but still in the pan) and add the a bit more oil to the pan and add the zucchini. Let it sit in one layer for about 3 minutes to get a bit of brown on it, then stir with the onions for another 2 minutes. Add the peppers and stir everything around together for about 3 minutes. Add more salt and pepper if you like and the 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes. Push the veggies to the sides of the pan and in the space in the center, squirt about 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. Move that around with your spoon or spatula for about a minute to cook the paste a bit, then add the wine and the tomatoes. Stir the eggplant back into the mixture, and let it all cook together for about 10 minutes.

Ratatouille could be eaten as a main course with cheese on top or as a side dish to grilled chicken or fish. The flavor improves upon sitting, so leave it in the fridge a day or so for optimum deliciousness. I planned to take a photo of the finished product, but we ate it all before I had a chance.

What’s your favorite way to eat your fall vegetables?

 

 

 

Parsley Paradise: Time to Preserve Herbs

Parsley, garlic, salt -- yum!
Parsley, garlic, salt — yum!

This year, I decided to edge some of my ornamental beds with parsley. I got the idea from The Wildlife-Friendly Garden.  The author suggested parsley be planted as a decoy plant to keep rabbits out of the vegetable garden. I haven’t see a lot of rabbits in the vegetable garden, so maybe it’s working. (I also haven’t seen a lot of chew marks on the parsley, either, so who knows?)

The result is, I have a LOT of parsley in my garden! I like parsley — it’s probably my favorite herb, but now I need to figure out what to do with it all.

I’ve been making pesto-like spreads from it, which I will freeze for addition to soups, sauces or vegetables during the winter. I also tried Margaret Roach’s approach of rolling the herbs into a log in a freezer bag. Then you can cut some of the herb roll off anytime you need it.

The other night, I decided to try a recipe from a new book I’m reviewing called Preserving by the Pint. This recipe involves chopping the parsley finely with garlic and salt and then setting it on a plate to dry. The idea is you will have a homemade spice mix to sprinkle on cooked dishes or in salad dressings. The garlic odor got a little strong in the house, so I had to set it out in the back porch. After 48 hours (the suggested drying time), it was still damp. I gave it a couple more days, but I think our August weather was too humid for outdoor drying. Time for Plan B.  I took the mix, added more parsley and some basil, a bit of olive oil and whirred it in the blender.

Plan B -- a delicious salty herby mixture.
Plan B — a delicious salty herby mixture.

I froze several packets of the salty herb mix for using in soups and on vegetables. Last night, I broke off about a teaspoon of it and added it to some cooked broccoli. It was incredible and added just the right bit of herb and salt to the vegetables.

What’s your favorite way to preserve herbs?

Dairy-Free Basil Gelato

Dairy free basil gelato -- lime, coconut, basil, yum.
Dairy free basil gelato — lime, coconut, basil, yum.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Julie introduced me to Basil Gelato, a creamy, delicious mix of milk, cream, eggs and sugar flavored with lots of whirled up basil from the garden. The one problem with the gelato was the color was just a bit too close to Army green for my taste.

I wanted to play with the recipe and also see if I could make a version that was dairy free for all my lactose-intolerant friends and relatives. Since the original recipe called for cream, the natural dairy-free replacement was coconut milk. I tempered that with some almond milk and added lime because coconut, basil and lime go so well together in Thai foods. To deal with the color issue, I decided to steep the basil in the ice-cream base rather than whirl it in a blender. The result is just slightly green and totally delicious.

Dairy-Free Basil Gelato

Ingredients

1 can (13.6 ounces) coconut milk (NOT low-fat)

1 cup almond milk (****See 2018 update below)

4 egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar, divided

1 tsp vanilla

pinch of salt

2 cups basil leaves

1 lime (used for zest and juice)

Method

Rinse and dry the basil leaves and set aside. In a sauce pan, mix the coconut and almond milks and 1/2 cup sugar and set them on a low heat to warm. In a bowl, mix the four egg yolks, vanilla, salt and 1/4 cup sugar and beat with a whisk (or a mixer) until they are lighter in color and thickened slightly. When the milk mixture begins to steam, ladle about 1/4 cup at a time into the egg yolk mixture to bring the temperature up slightly. After about three ladles, you can add the eggs to the milks and continue to cook the custard, stirring regularly. After about 8 minutes, the mixture will be thickened slightly. Remove from heat and add the basil leaves. Let the mixture steep for at least 30 minutes as the gelato base cools.

When it is cooler, add the zest and juice of a lime. Then strain the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove the basil leaves. Place the mixture in the refrigerator to cool even more. If you have an ice cream maker, get it out and set it up. When the mixture is cool, add it and process until you have gelato. If you do not have an ice cream maker (I don’t), pour the cooled mixture into an 8×8 inch pan that you have lined with parchment paper or wax paper. Put it in the freezer and take it out every 30 minutes and stir it up to mix the icy bits around. In about two hours, it will be frozen and close to ice cream texture. You can cover the pan with plastic wrap and keep it in the freezer until it’s time to serve.  When you serve it, set it out on the counter for about 10 minutes to thaw before scooping.

This would be great as dessert after any spicy meal.

 

****2018 Update: Since I originally developed this recipe, almond milk has become extremely popular. Some almond milks separate when heated — at least they do for me. The almond milks that work best in this recipe are those sold in the store on the grocery shelves, not in the refrigerator case. If your custard mixture separates, you can pull the mixture together a bit after straining it by stirring before freezing or adding additional uncooked product (such as whipped cream or non-dairy whipped topic to pull it together) or replacing the almond milk with additional coconut milk or regular dairy milk (whole or half and half would work best.)

 

Cherry Harvest and Clafoutis!

My small ‘Bali’ cherry tree is especially productive this year. So far, I’ve picked about a gallon and a half of nice cherries off the tree and there are plenty more where those came from. I’ll be picking daily over the next week or so, or until the birds clean out the rest.

A very small portion of this year's harvest, ready for baking.
A very small portion of this year’s harvest, ready for baking.

This is by far the best crop I’ve had from my cherry tree, which has been in the ground about eight years now: abundant cherries, no pests, and the birds haven’t cleaned out the tree even though I did not put a net on the tree this year as I have in the past. I attribute some of that good harvest to the pruning we did last fall, which opened up the center of the tree and improved air-flow through it.

‘Bali’, sometimes called ‘Evans’ cherry, is a sour cherry, discovered by the Canadian horticulturist Ieuen Evans in the 1920s. The trees stay relatively small — mine is under 10 feet tall. It’s a pretty tree for a smaller landscape and is covered with delicate white blossoms in the spring. The cherries are pretty, too, and make a great pie, cobbler or — what I did Saturday — clafoutis. A French confection, clafoutis lies somewhere between custard and a pancake. It’s easy to put together and, in my mind, works as a breakfast as well as a dessert.

Here’s the recipe I used, which is enough to fill a standard 9-inch pie plate:

clafoutis tight

Cherry Clafoutis

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; thoroughly butter (or use spray) a 9-inch pie pan

Cherries

Clean and pit enough cherries to fill the bottom of the pie plate–2 to 3 cups. Because my cherries are sour, I covered them with about 1/3rd cup of sugar and rolled them around so the cherries were coated with sugar.

Batter

3 eggs

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 c. all-purpose flour

3/4 c. milk (I used whole)

Whisk the eggs together with the sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt until well combined. Add the flour and whisk to incorporate it. Then, add the milk and whisk. The batter should be similar to a thick pancake batter. Gently ladle or pour the batter over the cherries in the pan. You want even distribution of cherries in the clafoutis. Bake the clafouti for 45. It will be puffed (though hopefully not so lopsided as mine was!). Lightly sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

This tastes wonderful fresh from the oven as is, or you could put a dollop of whipped cream on it for even more decadence. I also ate a piece for breakfast the next morning and that was wonderful, too.

Enjoy!

 

 

Best Rhubarb Bars Ever

When early summer hits Minnesota, it’s rhubarb time! While these tart stalks originated in China, where they were used largely for medicinal effects, they are considered the first fruit (vegetable?) of summer in the Midwest. Rhubarb is easy to grow, requiring only sun and a fertile soil. (My patch was planted on top of a former compost pile.) You need to let your rhubarb plant develop two or three years before harvesting stalks, but once you get past the three-year mark, you can harvest away.

pan of rhubarb bars on porch
These are like rhubarb custard pie with a crumble topping. Yum!

These bars are my own creation, based on a similar recipe that I found once on Cooks.com that involves pumpkin. (The recipe does not seem to be on the site anymore, but garden blogger Kylee Baumee makes them, too.) I made the rhubarb variation first when my daughters were still in school and I was a “Drama Mama.” The Drama Mamas helped out with theater productions at our local high school and sold treats and coffee at intermission to raise funds for the drama programs. The Drama Mamas have a reputation for providing really stellar bars, and these got lots of applause from the local critics. I hope you enjoy them, too!

Best Ever Rhubarb Bars

This recipe has three sections. It can be assembled in about 30 minutes, then baked for 45 to 55 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Crust

1 box yellow cake mix (remove 1/2 cup for topping)

1/2 cup butter, very soft

1 egg

Take out 1/2 cup of cake mix for topping and set aside. Mix the butter into the rest of the cake mix, then add the egg and mix. You will have a stiff dough. Spread the dough in a 9 by 13 inch pan using damp fingers. I put a slight lip on the edges to keep the filling from over-flowing.

Filling

3 cups chopped rhubarb (about 4 large stalks) — I slit the stalks lengthwise, then chop in 1/2 inch pieces

3 eggs

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 Tablespoons  flour

1 tsp fresh grated ginger (optional, but good)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

dash salt

2/3 cup of milk, half-and-half or whipping cream — depending on how wild you are feeling.

Whisk eggs with a hand whisk, then add brown sugar, flour, spices and salt and whisk again. Gradually whisk in liquid. Fold in rhubarb. Pour mixture over the crust layer, making sure the rhubarb bits are evenly distributed.

Topping

1/2 cup reserved cake mix

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup butter, softened

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Mix topping ingredients together to make a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle on top of filling.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes. Enjoy plain or with some whipped cream or ice cream on top.

 

 

 

 

Making a Lemony, Minty Iced Tea

apple mint
This is a pretty and beautifully aromatic mint.

This spring, I bought some apple-mint plants at Ecogardens in Northfield. This is one of the prettiest mints I’ve grown and the flavor adds so much zest to beverages. Much of this summer I have been “mojito-ing” my iced teas, by muddling the apple-mint with sugar and then adding some lime juice. It’s an instant pickup in the middle of the day.

Sunday, I decided to try something different, making a minty iced tea with hints of passionflower and ginger. It’s incredibly easy to do and provides a great excuse to drink iced tea out of a mason jar.

lemon mint passion tea
The color is wonderful, but it tastes even better.

For the tea, I put three bags of Tazo passion tea (a passionflower herbal blend) and two bags of Tazo green-ginger tea in a big glass pitcher filled with water. (It holds about 10 cups of water.) I set this aside overnight to let the flavors seep into the water. I’ve been doing cold-brews of iced tea since I had a batch that got a bit too bitter from a hot brew. (Apparently hot water can scorch the leaves, especially the herbals.)

Then, I made a light simple syrup mixture of 1/4 cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of water. Mix the water and sugar and bring it to a boil. Then into the syrup, I added the zest of two small, organic lemons and about 6 mint leaves. Let this marinate for at least 20 minutes. Drain out the leaves and add the syrup to the tea along with the juice of the two small lemons. Delicious! This is a refreshing herbal tea and not too sweet.

If you like your tea sweeter, go to a 1-to-1 simple syrup mixture (1/2 cup sugar to 1/2 cup water).

What’s your favorite herb beverage?