We love squash – marvellously bright and beautifully varied veg that herald the start of autumn. At Riverford's farm in south Devon, squash are sown in small pots in late April for planting out in mid May, and ready to harvest just at the point of the year when evenings are chilly and thoughts turn to cooking warming, nourishing dishes.
They can be stuffed, mashed, used in hearty salads, stews or risottos. The easiest way to enjoy them is roasted, which brings out the lovely, caramel sweetness. Simply peel and cut into chunks or curved wedges, toss in a little oil to coat and season. You can also add fresh herb sprigs (e.g. rosemary, thyme or sage) or spices (e.g. cumin, fennel seeds, or a little grated nutmeg). Roast at 190°C/Gas 5 for 25-30 minutes, until tender. If the skin is thin you can eat the roasted skin too.
If you are a squash enthusiast or fancy trying something different, here are some basic tips to help you identify and make the most of each variety:
True to its name, the bonbon squash is small and sweet. It has dense, deep orange flesh, with a rich, honeyed flavour that’s really enhanced by roasting it. Top in our taste tests of 20 different squash varieties, it’s a firm favourite here on the farm.
This small striped squash has mild, fragrant flesh with a creamy texture. Fantastically easy to prepare: just bake and eat it skin and all, no need to peel. Use as you would a marrow - try cutting it into thick discs and stuffing the hole with fragrant rice or spiced lamb.
The most mysterious variety, and one we get most questions about! Cut it in half lengthways, drizzle with oil, salt and pepper. Place cut side down on a baking tray and roast for about 30-40 minutes (depending on size) until completely tender. Let it cool a little then scrape across the squash with a fork to separate the flesh into long strands which can be treated like spaghetti and served with sauce, or served cold and dressed as a salad.
Also known as Japanese squash, it can have either green or orange skin. With a sweet, firm flesh, it can be roasted in wedges with the skin left on or simmered, steamed and mashed. Lovely in a fragrant broth or spiced tagine. Add in chunks to a slow braised stew for the final 30 minutes to bring a hearty sweetness to a dish.
Uchi Kuri (Red Onion) Squash
This bright orange onion shaped squash has a softer flesh that is versatile, but perhaps best used for mash and risottos. Its large seed cavity is also ideal for stuffing. Remove the seeds with a large spoon, fill the cavity with a tasty pulse or grain-based stuffing and bake until the squash is tender.
This beautiful small squash is a painterly mix of yellow, orange white and dark green splashes. Inside, the orangey-yellow flesh has good flavour which also lends itself to being stuffed and roasted. A word of caution - never try to roast a whole uncut squash in an oven, they are rumoured to explode!
Another very decorative squash, it may be small but is full of honey sweet, smooth flesh that roasts well. It also makes wonderful silky soups, or simply steam and mash with a small amount of cream or butter and pinch of nutmeg and season to taste.
Squash love to be in a warm dry place and can be stored for a long time like this. Enjoy their decorative charms by storing them on a kitchen shelf until you’re ready to eat them.
Separate the seeds from the pulp and toss them with a little oil and salt or soy sauce. You can add flavours, such as spices, honey or dried herbs. Spread over a baking sheet and roast at 160°C/Gas 3 for 10-15 mins, until crisp and lightly golden. Once cool, the roasted seeds will keep in an airtight container for a week or so and make an excellent healthy snack, or to add crunch to salads.