squash tasting inspires exploration of that cozy seasonal
having a squash tasting,” my neighbor said. “Come on over
and try some varieties you’ve never tasted before.”
varieties were in the offing and she was right: I knew only
the beige Waltham Butternut. Its preparation, like that of
the others, was simple: oven-roasted, lightly salt-and-peppered.
Ah, the associations one bite of the butternut inspires! Decades
of holiday meal memories live in that first bite, in its earthy
sweetness and flaky texture, crying out for the reassurance
of a pat of melting butter. This kind of squash is so season-specific
that its positively Proustian.
Thick skin and a plump size classify it as a winter squash,
as opposed to those thin-skinned summer varieties like zucchini.
The genus of all squash is Cucurbita; the large winter
squash generally fall into the species Cucurbita maxima,
while smaller types such as butternut are C. pepo.
Just as it’s a rambunctious garden guest, squash has an all-over-the-place
history. The word itself comes from the Narragansett “askutasquash,”
which means that it’s green and can be eaten raw, suggesting
that even Native Americans had too many zucchini on their
Like so many other foodstuffs that head for our tables, our
squash choices have been narrowed into a few easy-to-process
types, giving us plenty of pumpkins, acorns, spaghetti and
butternut, with a few pattypan incursions here and there.
Opening up to the other varieties requires research, which
can be done online at the Web sites of many seed suppliers,
or in your lap with Amy Goldman’s beautiful book The Compleat
It’s a species-by-species tour of hundreds of heirloom varieties
(thanks also to gorgeous photos by Victor Schrager) that reflect
not only Goldman’s all-consuming passion for the stuff (she
describes herself as a “cucurbitacean”—her own coinage—and
hopes you’ll be one, too) but also her tireless work as a
If you have the garden space, it’s worth getting some seeds
in next spring—if for no other reason than to see these critters
blossom and spread. The blossoms themselves can be delicious,
and then, come fall, you’ll be shin-deep in a shallow of broad
leaves, tangled vines and the pods themselves. (I’m convinced
it was the moonlit sight of a squash garden that inspired
Jack Finney to write his classic book The Bodysnatchers,
better known from the “Invasion of” movies that followed.)
And there’s nothing like crunching into a young yellow squash
just plucked from its stem, offering a sweetness that seems
to vanish instantly as the gourd travels from garden to kitchen.
But you don’t need to grow squash yourself to appreciate its
appeal. “There are many levels of appreciation,” says Goldman,
who notes in her book, “they consume me and I consume them.”
Eating squash provokes enough passion to have inspired, back
in February, a cook-off in Brooklyn that drew 20 home-based
chefs to the V-Spot Restaurant in Park Slope, fulfilling the
challenge of preparing “a tasty vegan dish using seasonal
The result? Such items as Winter Squash Risotto, Butternut
Persimmon Pudding with maple syrup, cinnamon and ginger, Cider
Glazed Squash with Greens, Squash Stuffed Mushrooms and Indian
Winter Squash Halwa. An early favorite was Bruschetta de Zucca,
which added ginger and shallots and sugared pecans to the
squash, but Winter Squash Streusel Pie took the $200 first
No doubt the most palate-pleasing way to consume squash is
in such fancy preparations, but I was happy enough to meet
five unfamiliar varieties in the playing- field-leveling roasting
pans in which they hit the table. Sarah Johnston, who grew
and prepared the gourds, is the Organic Agriculture Specialist
in NYS’s Agriculture & Markets Division of Agricultural
Protection and Development, and thus has a professional stake
in familiarity with such produce.
We began with Galeuse d’Eysines, a C. Maxima you have
to love warts and all because it’s studded with barnacle-like
protrusions. Its roasted flesh is juicy and sports a slight
flavor of oranges.
Rouge Vif d’Estampes comes from the same species, but it looks
like a pumpkin that’s been flattened—and sports a pumpkin’s
bright orange. Also known as a Cinderella pumpkin, it proved
to have a light, mousselike consistency but only a modest
sweetness. At a later meal, it found its way into a casserole
my wife prepared, and the added sugar, seasonings and butter
did nice things to the flavor.
Staying with C. max, our next candidate was a pale green Jarrahdale,
named for its Australian town of likely origin. This huge
gourd had a mealy texture to its meat, but mealy in an attractive
way. Its delicate flavor carries a suggestion of sweetness,
but it was enough to be satisfying as a stand-alone meal.
Sunshine kabocha, (also known as Johnny’s Sunshine ©. pepo),
has a potato-like density, and reminded me of that tuber in
flavor, too. This is an ornamental beauty that’s ornamental
for a reason—it’s a lot of work to consume. There are hybrid
versions, however, reputed to be far more flavorful.
The C. pepo species is also where you find the acorn
group, which includes the delicious Delicata and the versatile
Jack-Be-Little, not to mention the crooknecks, scallops and
our old friend zucchini.
Last on the menu, hailing from C. argyrosperma, was
Green-Striped Cushaw. It’s green and yellow stripes and lute-like
shape is about as classically gourd-ish as they come, which
is to its benefit: Its cantaloupe-colored innards have but
a moderate sweetness and put me in mind of parsnips.
Dinner was accompanied by Swiss chard and cornbread, and remains
one of the most unusual—and enlightening—meals I’ve attended,
and (as Sarah intended) already has me looking with new interest
at next year’s seed offerings for my garden.
Meanwhile, there are signs of positive change. During a recent
supermarket visit, I noted some unusual additions to the usual
squash array. Sweet dumpling, carnival, delicata, banana and
golden acorn were among them, suggesting that the wish to
diversify one’s at-home menu has extended that much further,
and we can hold out hope for more heirlooms to come.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
your Oktoberfest celebration a French twist at
La Serre (14 Green St., Albany) at a food-and-wine
dinner also featuring a performance by The True
Tones. It’s at 7 PM Saturday (Oct. 20), and the
menu includes Stuttgart cheese, smoked salmon
potato pancakes, sauerbraten, apple strudel and
more, each course paired with a selected wine—with
a Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir among
the varieties. The French Oktoberfest is $60 per
person (tax and tip extra) and reservations are
required: call 463-6056. . . . The next Farmer/Wine
Evening at Marché (74 State St., Albany)
features items from Denison Farm and Elihu Farm
and will take place at 7 PM on Oct. 26. A champagne
reception accompanies an hors d’oeuvres selection
including winter squash pannacotta, shrimp rolls,
lamb tartare and more; look for lamb meatballs,
lamb tortellini and roasted leg of lamb among
the other courses, along with minted spinach pesto,
kale soup and pumpkin beignet for dessert. Wines
include Marcel Deiss Pinot Blanc Bergheim, Pesquera
Tinto and Talley Late Harvest Riesling. Only 50
seats are available; dinner is $85 plus tax and
tip. Call 434-7410. . . . Remember to pass your
scraps to Metroland.
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..