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Harvesting the butternut squash

We worried about when to harvest the butternut squash. There's no greening, yellowing, reddening, deepening or other particular sign of ripeness once the squash grow to a certain size. Google Extension Service suggested harvesting before the first frost.  In California, that would be the day before Never.

In Nature's wisdom, the plants told us. The huge green vines that had sprung up on their own, just turned brown and shrank back on their own, leaving six heavy butternut squashes dangling from their red and yellow net bags. (We'd strung them up to keep them away from the wetness of the earth and the mouths of the snails.) We cut them down and divided the harvest.

My first butternut squash, I simply seeded, roasted and scraped the flesh from the shell. Butternut is bland, a lovely gold color, but -- yawn -- not much flavor.  But it was fresh and home grown. That imparts something wonderful to it, if you have the stillness and focus to be aware.

I have a recipe for roasted butternut squash with pear soup, but it tends to be sweet and fruity. So I turned to my copy of Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Vegetables, which its lovely, delicate illustrations and sensual prose. Of butternut and other winter squashes she writes they "can be served diced and sautéed as a lightly browned accompaniment to main courses; in a soup -- baked first, slightly mashed, simmered in chicken stock with onions and herbs, and garnished with shavings of Parmesan; in a gratin, tossed with a persillade, drizzled with olive oil, and slowly baked; in gratins with potatoes, flavored with bacon' in onion and squash panade -- layered with toasted levain bread, flavored with sage and Gruyere cheese, moistened with stock or water, and baked; in risotti, with thyme and white truffles; or a simple purée enriched with butter."

She suggests cutting a butternut squash in two at the point where the column of the neck balloons out into a wide bulb. Taking the bulbous part, cut it in half, scoop out the seeds like you would for an acorn squash, then peel it -- carefully -- with a sharp knife.  The neck can either be peeled whole or cut in half.

I'm thinking of using my last butternut squash according to one of Water's hallmark, simple recipes:

Oven-Roasted Squash with Garlic and Parsley

Take a favorite winter squash, such as butternut, peel and seed it. Cut into 1-inch chunks and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Spread the chunks evenly on a baking sheet and roast at 375º F for 40 minutes, until the chunks are tender and lightly brown.  Stir from time to time to prevent burning.

Peel and finely chop a few cloves of garlic and sauté in olive oil for just a minute, being careful not to brown.  Toss the squash with the garlic and a handful of chopped parsley, taste and adjust the seasoning before serving.



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