When daylight savings time ended on Sunday, suddenly the days seemed shorter, a reminder that even here in sunny California, winter is at hand. And as the days become cooler and wetter, cooking in the oven is more and more what I want to do. I find that cooking winter squash in an oven’s slow, steady heat not only reveals inherent sweetness and flavor, but warms the house with sweet aromas as well. My method is simple, and avoids tedious peeling and chopping. First you steam/ bake the squash, thus ensuring it is tender and moist, then you lightly glaze and roast it to deepen flavors and caramelize the natural sugars. Here’s how it works: (easy step-by-step process is after the jump)…
1) Wash the squash and trim off the stem end.
2) Using a heavy chef’s knife or Chinese cleaver, cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and pith (keep these for soup stock).
3) Sprinkle lightly with salt, place in a baking pan with about 1/3 inch of water.
4) Cover tightly with foil and bake in a 400º F oven for about 40 minutes (this is the steam/bake part).
5) In a small bowl, mix together the basting liquid: 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 2 teaspoons maple syrup or sweetener of choice, and a tiny pinch of salt, brush this on the cut surfaces of the squash (this makes enough to glaze one-half of a 4-pound squash).
6) Return to the oven, uncovered, for about 20 minutes (this is the roasting and caramelizing part).
7) When the squash is somewhat soft to the touch, it is done. Cut into serving-sized pieces (even the skin should be tender and edible). Also, you could scoop the squash meat out of the skin and mash and serve as mashed butternut squash or use in soups or pies.
While this method works well for all kinds of winter squash, keep in mind that cooking times will vary depending on the size of the squash, your oven and even the kind of baking pan you use. Start checking after the squash has been in the oven for 25 minutes, just to see how it is doing. Then check every 5-10 minutes through the remainder of the cooking process. For an exotic, Moroccan flavor, mix a tiny pinch each of powdered cinnamon, coriander and cumin into the basting mixture. For a Mediterranean taste, add just a little pinch each of oregano, thyme and rosemary. Delicious either way or plain. If you eat butter, a pat to two of that wouldn’t hurt either!