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Easy dinner recipes: Soup, salad and more ideas for winter squash

RecipesCookingPersonal ServiceRuss Parsons

Wondering what to do with all the winter squash showing up in the markets now? Despite their name, these squash are ready to be harvested in the fall, as Food editor Russ Parsons explains. Their tough skins meant the squash could be stored over long periods in the time before refrigeration.

But don't let those tough skins fool you. Winter squash are simple to cook -- whether roasted, fried, used as the basis for a hearty soup, or mashed for a colorful puree. Just last night, I steamed quartered butternut squash with a little water in the microwave, then seasoned and finished it outdoors on the grill -- a perfect dish ready in about 30 minutes. Or try these ideas:

Roasted acorn squash and apple salad: Acorn squash is roasted to tenderness before it's added to this salad, a simple mix of tart apples, spicy greens, toasted hazelnuts and shaved cheese. Colorful and deceptively simple, it comes together in about an hour.

Kabocha squash soup: Rich and creamy kabocha squash soup gets a dash of color from tart pomegranate seeds and crunchy spicy-sweet candied pecans. Festive and seasonal, it's a perfect choice if you're already on the hunt for Thanksgiving recipe ideas. Ready in only 40 minutes, it's also a perfect choice for dinner tonight.

RECIPES: 99 easy dinner ideas in about an hour or less

Peppery roasted squash: Peeled and cubed winter squash -- think buttercup, kabocha or Hakkaido -- is tossed with fresh thyme, smoky pepper flakes, salt and a touch of pumpkin seed oil, then roasted to caramelized tenderness in the oven. The dish comes together in less than 40 minutes.

You can find all of the recipes below.

And for more ideas, click through our easy dinner recipes gallery and check out our Dinner Tonight page, devoted to recipes that can be made in an hour or less. Looking for a particular type of recipe? Comment below or email me at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

MORE RECIPES: 99 ADDITIONAL easy dinner ideas in about an hour or less

ROASTED ACORN SQUASH AND APPLE SALAD

Total time: 1 hour

Servings: 4

Note: Adapted from Susan Dumeyer and David Sundeen of Windrose Farm. They use white acorn squash; you can substitute regular acorn or even delicata squash. Arugula can be substituted for the spicy mustard greens, and another firm white cheese (such as manchego) can be substituted for the Rinconada Tomme.

1 medium to large acorn squash, seeded and cut into wedges

Cooking oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup Banyuls vinegar

3/4 cup grapeseed oil

2 large tart apples, such as White Pearmain or Hauer Pippin

Splash of lemon juice

1 pound mixed spicy baby mustard greens, such as Golden Frill, Red Streak or Suehlihung

1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

1/4 pound Rinconada Tomme cheese

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Roast the squash: Lightly coat the squash segments with a cooking oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a sheet tray skin-side down. Bake until cooked but still firm, about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the wedges. Cool slightly before assembling the salad.

3. Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette: In a medium, sealable container, combine the vinegar, grapeseed oil, 1 teaspoon salt and one-half teaspoon pepper. Seal the container and shake to emulsify the vinaigrette. Taste and adjust the seasonings and flavoring as desired. This will probably make more vinaigrette than is needed; the vinaigrette will keep, covered and refrigerated, up to 1 week.

4. To prepare the apples, julienne them using a knife or mandoline. Toss the apples with the lemon juice to keep them from browning.

5. Place the greens in a large bowl with the hazelnuts and apples. Drizzle a bit of the vinaigrette over and toss until coated, adding more as needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

6. Place the dressed greens in individual bowls and place segments of the roasted squash alongside. Drizzle a little dressing on the squash. Using a potato peeler, shave strips of cheese on top of the salad and serve.

Each serving: 556 calories; 16 grams protein; 43 grams carbohydrates; 11 grams fiber; 39 grams fat; 8 grams saturated fat; 29 mg cholesterol; 19 grams sugar; 667 mg sodium.

KABOCHA SQUASH SOUP

Total time: 40 minutes

Servings: 6 to 8

Note: Adapted from Craig Strong, chef de cuisine, the Langham, Huntington Hotel & Spa. This recipe requires the use of a candy thermometer (or a thermometer reaching 265 degrees).

1 tablespoon butter

1 onion, finely diced

1 (2 1/2 pound) kabocha squash, peeled, cleaned and diced into 3/4 -inch pieces

3 cups chicken broth

2 cups heavy cream

Salt

Pepper

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

1 cup pecan halves

1/8 teaspoon espelette or cayenne pepper, or to taste

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

1. Heat a 4-quart sauce pan or small pot over low heat. Add the butter and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.

2. Stir in the squash, broth and cream, and season with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and one-fourth teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, loosely covered, until the squash is tender, about 20 minutes.

3. Puree the soup in a blender, or using an immersion blender, and pass through a strainer to remove any remaining solids. You should have about 9 cups soup. Set aside in a warm place until ready to serve.

4. While the soup is cooking, candy the pecans. Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan, stirring to moisten all of the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and cook, evaporating the water and cooking the sugar, until a thermometer inserted in the liquid reads 265 degrees (hard ball stage for sugar), 10 to 12 minutes. Immediately remove from heat.

5. Add the pecans and pepper powder to the sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until cool. The sugar will crystallize (or seize) as it cools, forming a cloudy hard coating around the nuts; this is fine.

6. When the nuts have cooled, heat a clean, medium pan over moderate heat. Stir in the crystallized nuts and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar coating on each nut caramelizes. Remove from heat and allow the caramelized nuts to cool on a sheet of parchment paper.

7. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve garnished with a small handful of spiced candied pecans and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.

Each of 8 servings: 411 calories; 5 grams protein; 28 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 33 grams fat; 16 grams saturated fat; 85 mg. cholesterol; 609 mg. sodium.

PEPPERY ROASTED SQUASH

Total time: 35 minutes

Servings: 8

Note: From Regina Schrambling

1 dense-fleshed winter squash, about 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds, such as buttercup, kabocha or Hokkaido

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or chipotle pepper flakes

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, preferably Maldon

2 tablespoons pumpkin seed oil (or walnut or hazelnut oil)

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half, slicing through the stem end. Scrape out the seeds (a melon baller or grapefruit spoon makes it easier). Cut the squash halves crosswise in half. Lay each quarter cut-side down on a cutting board and, using a vegetable peeler or very sharp paring knife, cut away the skin. Cut the squash into roughly three-fourths-inch chunks and place in a large bowl.

2. Add the thyme, pepper flakes and salt and toss to mix. Pour the oil over and mix thoroughly with a rubber spatula until all the chunks are evenly seasoned and oiled. Place the squash in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.

3. Roast, stirring once, until all the squash chunks are tender and caramelized on the bottom, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot or warm. (This can be made ahead and reheated in the oven, uncovered.)

Each serving: 72 calories; 1 gram protein; 11 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 4 grams fat; 1 grams saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 293 mg. sodium.   

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