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

Easy dinner recipes: soup, salad and more ideas for winter squash
Squash and apple salad (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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.

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.

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. You can find the recipe below.


Total time: 40 minutes | Serves 6 to 8

Note: Adapted from chef Craig Strong. 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
    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.

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