Photo © Puntarelle&Co Ltd
Winter Squash and Pumpkins
The Winter Squash season is now in full flow with several of our favourite varieties coming through our doors. Winter Squash are distinguished from Summer Squash more by the time of their harvest and use than by any botanical differences. They stay on the plant longer and are harvested when the rind has hardened and the flesh has been firmed and sweetened by a long period of summer sun. We tend to call the larger, thicker-skinned varieties pumpkins. As a general rule, the harder your pumpkin is to cut the sweeter and firmer its flesh. They are nutritious, many being rich in beta-carotene and other carotenoids. Available from November to March, most winter squash improve after a few weeks of storage. They keep best at a temperature around 15°C in a dry spot with humidy around 50-70%. Here’s a look as what we offer:
Delica Pumpkins are members of the Kabocha squash group, which come in green, orange and blue varieties. The Delica, also known as Hokkiado or Japanese Pumpkin, is dullish green-grey, tough-skinned, and weighs-in at around 1.5-2 kilos. Ours come from Italy where, after harvesting, the pumpkins are ‘cured’ indoors by being kept in a constant dry, warm atmosphere. This ensures development of their natural sugars, deepening the flavour and firming the flesh. Much loved by chefs, the outer skin hides a deep orange interior which, when sliced or diced, holds its shape in cooking. Its natural sugars caramelise beautifully bringing out its rich, nutty flavour. Roasted, it pairs deliciously with cheeses like goat’s curd and feta in a salad and is ideal for a ravioli filling. It also makes a wonderful risotto.
Spaghetti Squash have an open textured flesh which, when cooked, breaks into spaghetti-like strands. Cut in half, add a knob of butter and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg then bake in the oven. Being mild in flavour, children usually love this squash.
Onion Squash, named for its shape, is also known as Potimarron for its slight taste of chestnuts. This deep orange skinned squash is less sweet than most orange-fleshed winter squash but it roasts well and makes a particularly good soup. They are modest in size, usually weighing between 500g-1kg which makes them a good choice for roasting whole – simply slice off 3-4 centimeters from the top, scoop out the seeds and fill the cavity with cream, cheese and a sprig of thyme, replace the top and bake in the oven for around an hour (depending on size). It’s also good served raw when thinly sliced.
Crown Prince, also known as Blue Prince for its steely blue skin, is another Kabocha Group squash. It’s another hard-skinned variety so is an excellent keeper. Its orange yellow/orange flesh is close-textured and it holds its shape well in cooking. It grows to a similar size to the Delica. Some would say its flesh is not as rich and firm but it can be used in a similar way. It’s also good roasted and served as a mash with butter, salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme mixed in.
Acorn and Festival Squashes are very similar in texture. In appearance the Acorn is dark green, almost black while the Festival squash is spotted creamy yellow and dark green. Both have a custardy yellow interior with flesh that is less dense and rich than some winter squashes. They are a good size for cutting in half and roasting, maybe with a rice-based stuffing.
Gem Squash This small, round, dark green squash really is a little gem in the kitchen. Best cooked whole, it can be roasted or boiled (remember to prick the skin first to avoid an explosion). Its pale yellow flesh has a fairly loose texture and its flavour is mild. Simply top with butter, salt and pepper and a Gem Squash makes a delicious lunch.
We select a large hard-skinned variety of pumpkin, the Musquee de Provence Pumpkin which is much appreciated by chefs. Deeply lobed and ribbed, it’s a formidable looking fruit that can weigh as much as 10kg. Starting off a dull green, this variety develops a beautiful burnished brown skin. Its flesh is deep orange, firm and rich. We often sells this pumpkin by the slice when customers want to use it straight away but, uncut, it will keep right through winter and into spring. This is a versatile pumpkin which can be roasted and used in soups, stews and gratins as well as for desserts like pumpkin pie.
Other varieties we often have are Butternut Squash – reliable and useful for its edible skin, Delicata Squash – also known as the ‘Sweet Potato Squash’ and the spectacular Turk’s Turban – beautiful to look at with a delicate pale lemon turnip-flavoured flesh.