Take Winter Squash from Décor to Delicious

Wednesday, August 30, 2006 | 07:00pm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – “Winter squash is one of those rare foods that can make a transition from pretty decoration to delicious dinner,” says Tammy Algood. “Too often, we forget that these beautiful autumn jewels were good food a long time before they served as seasonal centerpieces.”



“There’s a reason you can find them in the produce section of your grocery store— you can eat them!” says Algood. “My latest recipe, Wild Baked Acorn Squash, lets you show off both the pretty outside and the tasty inside of your purchase.”

Tammy Algood, food expert and spokesperson for the statewide “Pick Tennessee Products” promotion, creates recipes featuring products grown or processed in Tennessee. “Pick Tennessee Products” is the campaign developed by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Market Development Division to help consumers identify and choose Tennessee food products. Algood’s recipes are featured on the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Web site at www.picktnproducts.org.

Squash is a native of North and Central America. Native Americans ate selected wild types that resemble today’s squash type fruits; remains of squashes dating back to 8,000 B.C. have been found in Mexico.

Squash was introduced to the Europeans in the 1500s by traders returning from the Americas. Squashes were used widely by settlers in New England because winter type, or “hard” squash stored well and could be eaten far into the winter. “0ur word ‘squash’ comes from the Massachuset Indian word askutasquash, meaning ‘eaten raw,’” says Algood, “but today, most of us prefer our squashes cooked.”

When choosing hard squash, Algood emphasizes that looking for a particular color will not be helpful. “There’s a lot of variation in the colors of winter squashes,” says Algood. “If it’s at the market, it’s ripe and ready to use.” Popular cooking varieties include butternut, Patty pan, Waltham and Algood’s choice for her recipe, acorn squash.

“There are two secrets to this recipe,” says Algood. “The first is the apple brandy. You cook it down with the onion and garlic. The second secret is the pecans—you simply must toast them. Just place them in a pan and stick them in the oven at 350 degrees until you smell them. It only takes about 5 minutes, but it makes all the difference in the world.”

“This recipe can be made well ahead of mealtime,” says the spokesperson. “Put the whole thing together, store in the refrigerator, and when you’re ready for it, just pop it in the oven.

“If you want to make a heartier dish try adding some sausage—already cooked, of course—to the stuffing mix. It’s terrific.”

Winter squashes should be stored in cool, relatively dry conditions. The best temperature to keep hard squash in good condition is between 50 to 59 degrees. Properly stored, they can be kept for up to six months.

Find local farms and farmers markets offering fall produce and décor, more recipes and information about other Tennessee farm products at www.picktnproducts.org.

Please find a hi-res downloadable photograph of the attached recipe at www.picktnproducts.org. Click on the featured recipe.

Pick Tennessee Products Featured Recipe for September/October

Wild Baked Acorn Squash

3 large acorn squash, halved and seeded

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/ 2 cup apple brandy

1/4 cup apple cider

3 cups cooked long-grain wild rice

3 cups cooked wild rice

2 egg yolks

1 cup toasted pecans

1 cup grated Gouda cheese

1 tablespoon fresh sage

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place squash in a large baking dish and set aside. Heat oil in a large saute pan over high heat until hot. Add onions and garlic. Saute 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat and carefully add brandy and cider. Set pan over high heat and reduce until mixture is nearly evaporated, about 4 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let cool.

Transfer cooled mixture to a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients, mixing well. Divide stuffing among prepared squash. Bake until squash is tender, about an hour. Serve warm. Yield: 6 servings.

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