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Crazy squash looks just like a football

Recipe: Winter (mystery) squash looks challenging, but results are versatile and delicious

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Weird on the outside, delicious on the inside:
Crazy squash. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

It’s time to tackle the crazy squash.

The last of the fall harvest can linger for months. (That’s why pumpkins make such great decorations.) Hard-shelled squash will keep without refrigeration for weeks. That’s why they’re nicknamed “winter squash”; you can eat them “fresh” from October through March (or longer).

But some winter squash can be a formidable challenge. First, what is it? Like all members of the squash and pumpkin family, these plants can easily cross, creating mysterious hybrids.

That’s how I ended up with a bunch of crazy squash. From the outside, they looked sort of like banana squash, but not quite as big (thankfully). Maybe they had papaya squash or more likely butternut squash in their parentage; their size and shape reminded me of a football, only rounder. (A rugby ball, perhaps?)

Their insides, once cooked, tasted like pumpkin. So that made these squash crazy versatile, too. They can go savory or sweet.

So how do you approach a football-size mystery? First, wash the skin well, scrubbing off any accumulated grime. With a long sharp knife on a firm cutting surface, cut in half, then quarters. That makes it easier to scrape out the seeds.

After seeding, peel the skin and cut the flesh into 1-inch chunks. Those chunks can be steamed; they’ll be tender in about 20 to 30 minutes. The cooked flesh can be mashed and used in any pumpkin recipe such as pumpkin bread, soup or cookies.

Those chunks also make a great side dish on their own by simply roasting. They make a tasty (and vitamin-packed) accompaniment to hearty winter meals that’s crazy good for you, too. Who knew you could enjoy “garden-fresh” fresh squash in February?

Roasted crazy squash
Serves 4 to 6

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Steam the chunks and mash to use in recipes
 as you would with pumpkin. Or roast them.

Ingredients:

6 cups winter squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Seasoning salt and pepper to taste
Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large baking dish, toss squash cubes with oil and seasoning until well coated. Bake squash at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until squash is tender. Serve.

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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