From festive photos to table centerpieces, squash is the poster food for autumn. Summer squash is available year-round, but the prices go up dramatically because the supply is no longer local. In their place, though, come the squashes of autumn. You may hear them referred to as winter squash, because they can be stored through the winter months, but they arrive in late summer and fall. Beautiful and colorful, they offer so many more choices when it comes to recipes than their summer counterparts.
The gourd family offers varieties including acorn, hubbard, butternut, delicata squash and spaghetti squash. The latter's pasta-like strands are a healthful substitute for spaghetti pasta, and they taste great on their own with a little salt and butter. Acorn squash can be transformed into beautiful soups, while butternut is excellent when roasted with a little olive oil and garlic. And give me a salad with delicata squash and goat cheese tossed in a mustardy vinaigrette, and I'll be your friend for life.
There's really no end to all the delicious ideas you can come up with using the fall squash harvest.
The sight of autumn squash is a telltale sign of fall, as reliable as the colder temperatures and shorter days ahead.
Crabtree Farms is one place in Chattanooga where you can buy butternut squash fresh from the field, though it takes a little time from harvest to table.
"We plant our winter squashes early in the season, so they are ready to be harvested in August," says Sara McIntyre, executive director at Crabtree Farms. "Once harvested, the squashes must be cleaned and cured — a process that allows the natural starches in the flesh of the fruit to transform to sugars, lending the slightly sweet flavors beloved in most winter squashes."
Typically, the farm is ready to sell its winter squashes beginning this month and lasting as long as they can be kept in stock.
"We usually run out of winter squash between January and March, depending on the year's yield and demand," McIntyre adds.
So now is the time and Crabtree Farms is the place, but it's not the only spot in town to stock up on the colorful orbs of autumn.
"When Crabtree began in 1998, there were few markets at which the public could buy locally grown produce, so our farm stand saw a great deal of business because options were so limited," McIntyre says. "We're pleased that the farm-to-table and eat-locally movements have grown so strong that Chattanooga now boasts at least one farmers market each day of the week. With greater access and geographic opportunities, folks no longer have to make the trek to our on-site farm stand."
Crabtree sells its produce every week at the Wednesday Main Street Farmers Market. Or visit St. John's Restaurant, The Meeting Place, Flying Squirrel, or Easy Bistro, a few of several Chattanooga restaurants that have Crabtree fruits and vegetables on their menus. You may just find the farm's butternut squash prepared in many delicious ways. Or take one home and make this amazing salad — perfect for fall as the warm squash softens the lettuces and blends in with the tangy vinaigrette.
Delicata-Goat Cheese Salad
2 cups fresh delicata (or butternut) squash, diced into 1-inch cubes
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 ounces mixed lettuces
1/4 cup craisins
1 small log of plain goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3-1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (or to taste)
1 teaspoon smooth spicy mustard (such as Grey Poupon)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (not heaping)
3 heaping tablespoons roasted pumpkin seeds
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the squash cubes on a baking sheet, and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until tender and caramelized.
While the squash is in the oven, wash and dry the greens and put in a salad bowl. Sprinkle craisins on the greens. Break the log of goat cheese into pieces and sprinkle over the salad.
Pour the cider vinegar into a small mixing bowl. Whisk in mustard, salt and pepper to emulsify. Once it is well blended, whisk in the 1/4 cup olive oil.
Once the squash is partially cooled, sprinkle with kosher salt, and toss about 2 cups into the salad. (Remaining squash can be served as leftovers with, for example, a good roast chicken or stirred into beef stew.)
Toss the toasted pumpkin seeds and vinaigrette with the salad, and divide onto four salad plates.
DINNER OUT SUPPORTS RED CROSS
Have dinner this evening at Texas Roadhouse between 4 and 10 p.m., enjoy one of its great steaks or burgers — or whatever else on the menu makes your mouth water — and the restaurant will donate 100 percent of its profits to the American Red Cross and other relief organizations in communities impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. It's a win-win — you get a great meal and in return, the communities will be provided with food, water and whatever else they may need to get back on their feet.
Texas Roadhouse is located in Chattanooga at 7016 Shallowford Road.
JUST A THOUGHT
I'm not a regular Whole Foods shopper, but I have shopped there enough to realize why some people call the store "Whole Paycheck." The times I've been there in the past, I've seldom walked out with a half-cartful of items for under $100. However, since Amazon bought Whole Foods, you may have heard that some prices have come down. And sure enough, they have. Recently I came out of the store with a receipt for only $69.55. That may sound like a lot to some, but for Whole Foods, not bad. It will be interesting to see what other items besides bananas, eggs, avocados and a handful of other items will be marked down.
Contact Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.