Our winter squash and pumpkin crop yielded little last year, and as I packed away other storage veg, I thought I would have to do without a cold-weather stash. But as daylight waned, friends and family kept sending me home with squash, most fearing it would spoil before they could use it or lacking inspiration for how to prepare it.
If you’re in that camp, this week’s post should both quell fears and inspire delicious meals. Winter squash and pumpkins keep far longer than people think, particularly if they’re properly cured and stored. And they can go in a range of meals, from breakfast to lunch to dinner to dessert. As a bonus, they’re easy to prep and cook ahead for multiple quick, unexpected meals, like risotto and curry.
Ready to give a weeknight curry a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You need just 3 main ingredients plus some additional vegetables and Thai-inspired flavors.
1. Heat the curry base.
2. Simmer the vegetables in it.
3. Add the flavorings and serve over rice.
Thai Squash Curry
1 14-ounce can coconut milk, well shaken
1–2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
1 cup Vegetable Stock or water
1 red bell pepper
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1-1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 cubes Basil Pesto Base
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds for garnish (optional)
Slice the stem and blossom ends off the squash, and then cut it in half. Pull out the strings and seeds, saving the seeds for roasting and composting the rest. Cut the squash flesh into 1-inch cubes.
In a 5-quart saucepan, whisk the coconut milk and 1 tablespoon of curry paste until blended. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the squash and vegetable stock or water. Return the curry to a boil; reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the bell pepper, frozen corn, and frozen basil cubes. Simmer, covered, for 5–10 minutes, until the squash is tender. Add the sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce; taste, adding more curry paste and other flavorings as desired. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with a little water. Serve over steamed rice. Serves 4–6.
Tips & Tricks
- This curry makes a quick weeknight meal—if you precleaned the squash, it’s ready at the same the time as the rice. You could prep the squash for another dish over the weekend (see below) and then set aside enough for curry during the week; the cubes keep several days in a sealed container in the fridge.
- Curry paste blends smoothly into coconut milk, and it’s easy to make at home and freeze cubes. Dried curry powder also works; you can make one on the fly from basic spices like coriander, cumin, ginger, black pepper, cilantro, garlic, and chilies.
- If you’re vegetarian or vegan, fish sauce is a harder item to substitute: it’s unique umami is too multidimensional to simply swap in soy sauce or tamari. The simplest replacement I’ve made comes from the folks at Cook’s Illustrated, who recommend a shiitake–soy broth.
- Frozen pesto base is my go-to for winter Thai dishes, but fresh is best if you’re growing it on a sunny windowsill. Sliver 1/3 cup of fresh basil leaves and sprinkle them on the curry just before serving.
Twice as Tasty
I often think of risotto as a spring or summer dish, dotted with the latest harvest from the garden. But the thick rice holds up well under the weight of winter vegetables. Squash and pumpkin in particular can melt into the dish, giving it a bonus layer of creaminess.
When I first started making squash risottos, I would steam the squash and let it dissolve into the dish. But after I started roasting pumpkin cubes for pasta dishes, I came to love the same roasted taste and denser squash chunks. Each has its advantages in terms of time and flavor, so I encourage you to try it both ways. Roasting makes it easy to prep the squash in advance; while you’re at it, toss the garlic into the baking pan. Then when you go to make the risotto, you’re practically done with the veg prep. For an even easier after-work risotto, make the rice ahead of time.
Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You need just 3 main ingredients plus some basic vegetables, herbs, cheese, and kitchen staples.
1. Cut up all fresh ingredients and precook the squash.
2. Cook the rice.
3. Add the fresh ingredients and cheese and serve.
5 cups Vegetable Stock
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
4–6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried sage leaves or blossoms, crushed
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
6 ounces fresh mushrooms (about 2 cups when sliced)
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup goat cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup Parmesan, grated
Prep all ingredients as noted in the ingredient list (see Tips & Tricks for ways to prep key ingredients for multiple meals). Precook the cubed squash, either by steaming the cubes over boiling water for 10–15 minutes or roasting it at 450°F for 30–35 minutes, as you would for weeknight pumpkin pasta, until the squash is tender. Heat the stock in a saucepan, and then keep it warm.
Cook the rice as you would for Fresh Improv Risotto: In a large heavy-bottom pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and herbs; sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir for 1 minute, until thoroughly coated. Add about 1 cup of warm stock and let the rice simmer uncovered, stirring every couple of minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed. Continue the process, adding 1/2–1 cup of stock at a time, over the next 20 minutes.
When the rice is almost done, stir in the squash, mushrooms, and wine and cook for about 2 minutes, until the wine is absorbed. Stir in the butter and goat cheese until they melt into the rice. Taste, adding the nutmeg and salt and pepper as desired. Turn off the heat and let rest 1–2 minutes before serving, topped with grated Parmesan. Serves 4–6.
Tips & Tricks
- I love risotto because it tastes so rich even when you make it with what you find in the fridge. Many squashes, from pumpkin to buttercup to acorn, work here, as do various mushrooms, such as chanterelle, cremini, and portobello. Other vegetables and herbs can be swapped in.
- If you’re cleaning and roasting squash, you might as well cut up enough for multiple meals. Leftover cubed or even roasted squash can be dropped into Thai Squash Curry, soup, and pasta and will keep several days in the fridge.
- Premade risotto is another make-ahead hack: After cooking 12–15 minutes, when the rice is becoming tender but is still firm in the center, spread it in a wide, flat pan. Transfer it to a lidded container when completely cool. It will keep in the fridge for a week.
- Although I typically stick to Parmesan for risotto, goat cheese works so well with these flavors and softens evenly into the rice. If the flavor is too strong for you, replace it entirely with Parmesan or fromage blanc.
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