Fruit and Veg

A chef's guide to winter squashes

Written by Tom Moggach
September 28, 2018

Grab your sunglasses! Squash season is here - a rainbow of dazzling colour on the market.

"Squashes" is a generic term for a dizzying range of plants: pumpkins, marrows, patty pans and umpteen varieties such as Crown Prince, Harlequin, Acorn, Kabocha and many more. 

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Squashes Pattisons Strie

A key distinction is between summer and winter squashes. Summer squashes such as courgettes and patty pans are harvested earlier in the season and have a softer skin, so are not suited for storing.

Winter squashes, on the other hand, have a longer growing season and harder skin so can be stored for many months. These are the focus of this chef's guide.

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Squashes Flowers

Key facts

> Winter squashes are half-hardy annuals from the Cucurbit family, which includes melons and cucumbers.

> Pollination is via insects moving between male and female flowers, although it can also be done by hand. The squash is the fruit of the plant, which develops behind the female flower.

> Of the many hundreds of varieties, some of the loose groups include bottle and ornamental gourds, moschata and hokkaido types. Pumpkins are typically bred for size and are not so good to eat.

Growing and harvesting

Holm Select is a leading grower of organic squashes. Clive Martin is a fourth generation farmer in The Fens, growing organic squash, asparagus, Globe artichokes and tenderstem.

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Squashes Cliver Martin

Of his 1400 acres, a touch under a hundred are put over to squash. He sends off seed to a specialist nursery then plants out their modules (baby plants) from May to June. 

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Squashes Onion Squash Field

Grown to organic standards, he adds a base fertiliser and trace elements during the growing season.

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Squashes Onion Squash Boots

Holm Select cultivates many varieties, including ornamental gourds which are used for decorative purposes and sold to the Flower Market, too.

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Squashes Ornamental Gourds
Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Squashes Varieties

Once harvested, the squash are cleaned and packed into 5kg and 10kg boxes.

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Squashes Cleaning
Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Squashes Packhouse

On the Market

Winter squashes are sold by a wide range of wholesalers on the market. Holm Select supply S Thorogood and Sons. P & I are a good bet for pumpkins. Continental specialists such as The French Garden and European Salad Company sell key varieties Muscade de Provence and Zucca di Napoli. 

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Squashes Muscade De Provence

Kitchen inspiration

Go heavy on the spices - the flesh of squashes soaks up flavour. Pairings include ginger, garlic, hard herbs such as sage, chilli, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, coriander, fennel and cumin seeds.                                    

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Squashes Brunswick House

For a blast of recipe inspiration, see articles here and here, which include ideas such as roasted pumpkin ice cream, a masala dosa and a South-east Asian pork and squash curry.  

Classic Italian preparations include using squash as a pasta filling and matching with sage, parmesan and balsamic - a dish currently on the menu at Bocca di Lupo in the West End. 

For a more French twist, a squash veloute will do the trick. 

Obviously, they can star as a key carb in all manner of salads. 

Squashes feature in many curry recipes from India, Bangladesh and further afield in Asia. 

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Squashes Soup Emmalouisemcg

This image of squash soup is from a post from Emma Louise McGettrick, a cook in Dublin. 

In a low-waste kitchen, you might want to consider roasting the seeds, too. Rinse and spread in a single layer on a baking tray in a low oven to dry them out. Then dry fry with a splash of water, sprinkle of salt and any condiments and spices such as soy and chilli. 

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