Fall is here! The signs are everywhere. Crisp, cool weather brightens our days and in most areas Mother Nature is putting on a spectacular show of brilliant reds and golds. Even in Israel, where we jokingly say fall lasts about five minutes, you can feel a difference in the air in the early morning and evening.
It's the time of year to get back in the mood for more substantial foods than the light summer meals we have eaten for the past several months, yet we're not quite ready for the stews and comfort foods of winter.
The grocery stores and produce markets display a variety of fruits and vegetables that almost rival Mother Nature - red, green, and yellow apples; green, orange, and gold squashes; and a plethora of vegetables that are almost as brilliant as the leaves on the trees.
A friend of mine recently called me from the States. She had visited an open-air market and commented on the abundance of interesting and different squashes she saw. She came home with sweet potato squash, dumpling squash, spaghetti squash and butternut squash, among others, and is now in the process of trying a different one each night.
Unfortunately, we don't have that much variety of winter squash in Israel but we do have several and they make wonderful one-dish meals. In addition to their beauty, taste and texture, they are power-packed with fiber, potassium, calcium, phosphorous and vitamin A. When purchasing, look for squashes with no cracks or bruises - the heavier the better - and store them in a cool, dry place. One of the nice things about winter squashes is that they have a very long shelf life. Acorn and spaghetti squash have the shortest shelf life (about two months) but the other hard-shelled squashes can be kept for six to seven months before they begin to deteriorate.
CHUNKY SQUASH SOUP
I love to serve this hot during the fall for Shabbat dinner and during the summer chilled. It's delicious either way.
Makes 8 servings
4 2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 2 leeks, white part only, cut into 2.5-cm.
4 1 onion, cut into 2.5-cm. chunks
4 2 cloves garlic, minced
4 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2.5-cm.
4 1 kg. winter squash or pumpkin, peeled,
seeded and cut into 2.5-inch chunks
4 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut
into 2.5-cm. chunks
4 1 tsp. thyme
4 8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
4 1 tsp. lemon juice
4 Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in large saucepan. Add leeks, onion and garlic and sautÃ© for a few minutes until soft. Add carrots, sweet potato and squash. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Season with lemon juice and salt and pepper. If soup is too thick, add additional broth.
ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND GARLIC LASAGNA
This is an unusual recipe based on one from an old Gourmet magazine, but it's great stuff. It requires a little time but it's easy to make and you'll make this over and over again once you've tried it. The ingredients all go together amazingly well.
Makes 6 servings
4 1.5 kg. butternut squash, quartered,
seeded, peeled and cut into 1.5-cm.
pieces (about 91â„2 cups)
4 4-5 large cloves garlic, minced
4 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
4 4 cups milk or parve chicken broth
4 2 Tbsp. dried rosemary, crumbled
4 1â„4 cup butter or margarine
4 4 Tbsp. flour
4 9 sheets (18 x 9 cm.) dry, no-boil
4 11â„3 cups fresh grated Parmesan cheese
4 1â„2 cup smoked Gouda or other smoked
4 1 cup heavy cream
4 1â„2 tsp. salt
4 Fresh rosemary sprigs for garnish
Preheat oven to 230ÂºC and oil 2 large, shallow baking pans (I use disposable aluminum pans). In a large bowl, toss squash and garlic with oil until coated well and spread in one layer in pans. Roast squash 10 minutes and season with salt. Stir squash and roast 10-15 minutes longer, or until tender and beginning to turn golden.
While squash is roasting, in a saucepan bring milk or parve chicken broth to a simmer with the rosemary. In a large, heavy saucepan melt butter and stir in flour. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and whisk in milk mixture in a stream until smooth. Return pan to heat and simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, about 10 minutes, or until thick. Stir in squash and salt and pepper to taste. (Sauce may be made three days ahead and refrigerated, with its surface covered with plastic wrap.)
Reduce oven temperature to 190ÂºC. Grease a 23 x 33 cm. baking pan. Pour 1 cup sauce into baking pan (sauce will not cover bottom completely) and cover with 3 lasagna sheets, making sure they do not touch each other. Spread half of remaining sauce over pasta and sprinkle with one cup Parmesan cheese and 1â„4 cup of Gouda cheese. Make one more layer in the same manner, beginning and ending with pasta.
In the bowl of an electric mixer beat cream with salt until it holds soft peaks, and spread evenly over top pasta layer, making sure pasta is completely covered. Sprinkle remaining cheeses over cream.
Cover pan tightly with foil, tenting slightly to prevent foil from touching top layer, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake lasagna for an additional 10 minutes, or until top is bubbling and golden. Let stand for 5 minutes. Garnish each serving with rosemary.
APPLE-FILLED SQUASH HALVES
For a parve dish, omit the ground meat and increase the apples.
Makes 4 servings
4 2 medium acorn squash
4 11â„2 tsp. salt
4 2 cups apples, pared and coarsely
chopped (about 2 large)
4 1 pinch salt
4 2 Tbsp. butter or margarine, melted
4 500 gr. lean ground beef or chicken
4 1â„2 tsp. cinnamon
4 1â„4 cup raisins
4 4 Tbsp. brown sugar
Preheat oven to 200ÂºC. Cut each squash in half and remove the seeds and fibers. Place the squash, cut side down, in an ungreased baking pan, then add water to the depth of 0.6 cm. Bake, uncovered, until the squash in tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Meanwhile, cook and stir the ground meat in a large skillet until it is brown. Remove skillet from heat and drain off excess fat. Stir in 11â„2 teaspoons salt, cinnamon, apples and raisins.
When the squash is cooked, move to a platter face up and drain any liquid from the baking pan. Scoop out the pulp from the squash, making a shell that is 2.5 cm. thick all the way around. Season the shells with salt to taste. Mash the pulp and mix in the meat mixture. Fill the shells, piling them full, and sprinkle with one tablespoon brown sugar on each. Drizzle with the melted butter and bake uncovered until the apples are tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Serve hot.
SPAGHETTI SQUASH CASSEROLE
Spaghetti squash isn't easy to find in Israel but when you do see it in your grocery, grab it. It's delicious and very low in calories. This dish cooks in the microwave for a total of about half an hour.
Makes 4 servings
4 1 spaghetti squash (about 2 kg.)
4 1â„2 cup canned crushed tomatoes
4 3 Tbsp. olive oil
4 3 cloves garlic, minced
4 1 tsp. salt
4 Pepper to taste
4 1â„2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
4 1â„4 cup Parmesan cheese
4 1â„4 cup chopped green onions
4 Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
Prick the squash in several places with a knife and place on a microwave-safe dish. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and cook in the microwave for 10 minutes. Turn the squash over and cook for another 10 minutes. Let stand to cool. Meanwhile, sautÃ© garlic in olive oil until golden or cook in microwave. When cool enough to handle, cut squash in half and scoop out the pulp. Pulp will resemble spaghetti. Place pulp in a casserole with the crushed tomatoes, garlic, oil, salt and pepper and mix well. Cover with the cheeses and green onions. Cook until just heated through, about 5 minutes.n
Sue Epstein is the author of Budget Cooking - Elegant Dining and Simply Delicious.