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Roasted Honey Nut squash a side dish for autumn

Recipe: Maple glaze is subtly spiced; lime juice adds balance

Sprinkled with lime juice and fresh thyme just before serving, the Honey Nut squash makes a delicious seasonal side dish.

Sprinkled with lime juice and fresh thyme just before serving, the Honey Nut squash makes a delicious seasonal side dish. Kathy Morrison

It's squash season -- decorative and otherwise -- which means we vegetable gardeners get to explore all the things that squash can do. Well, beyond pie, which is a given.

This is the first year I've successfully grown Honey Nut squash. This little squash, which looks like butternut's younger, oranger sibling, is a relatively new member of the squash family. It was developed by a Cornell University Institute plant breeder, Michael Mazourek, who in 2009 was challenged by a New York chef to create a squash that was smaller, sweeter and less stringy than the ubiquitous butternut. I'd say he succeeded.

Ingredients for squash dish
The two squash together weighed 1.36 pounds.

As a bonus, Honey Nut is much easier to cut in half than just about any other orange squash, and the skin is thin enough to eat when cooked, so no peeling needed.

Back in May I planted two hills of seeds at the base of a strong trellis, and they've been very happy, sprawling but taking up much less room than, say, a pumpkin plant. The largest one I've harvested so far is about 1-1/2 pounds, the smallest just half a pound. Like other squash, they need to cure for about 10 days before cooking or storing.

"You grew it, now eat it!" says Farmer Fred Hoffman. OK, let's show off this cute squash in a side dish that doesn't overwhelm with sweetness. This version was freely adapted from a NY Times recipe. The spices can be adjusted for personal taste, but if at all possible don't leave out the lime juice -- it balances the spicy-sweet perfectly. (And my limes are ripening, too -- nice timing.)

Looking ahead: Doubled, this recipe would make a fine addition to a Thanksgiving spread.

Roasted winter squash with spiced maple glaze 

Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

Squash seed removal
Melon baller makes quick work of deseeding.

1 to 1-1/2 pounds small winter squash(es), such as Honey Nut, Sweet Dumpling or Delicata 

2 shallots, peeled and cut in half or quartered, depending on size

3 tablespoons real maple syrup

Large pinch Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/8 teaspoon coriander seeds or ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Pinch of ground nutmeg

Pinch of smoked paprika

For serving:

Several sprigs of fresh thyme

Lime juice from 1/2 fresh lime

Instructions:

Line a roasting pan with heavy-duty foil (preferred), or sturdy parchment paper, and grease the inside lightly with oil spray or heat-tolerant cooking oil (grapeseed oil is my go-to for this). Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut the stem and blossom ends off the squash, and slice the squash in half. Scoop out the seeds. (A melon baller is useful for this.) Slice each half crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Place the slices in a large bowl, along with the shallot pieces, and set aside.

Squash pieces in roasting pan
Spread the vegetable pieces in one layer.

In a small saucepan, simmer the maple syrup and Aleppo pepper on medium-high heat for 1 to 3 minutes. Don't walk away from the stove -- this can overcook or scorch easily. You just want to concentrate and flavor the syrup a bit.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter, which will melt, and the coriander, salt and pepper, nutmeg and smoked paprika.

Pour the mixture over the squash slices and shallot pieces, and stir to coat evenly.

Place the squash mixture, including all the liquid, in the prepared pan in one layer.

Roast for 15 minutes. Stir the vegetables, flipping them over,  and cook for an additional 10 minutes or until skin on the squash is tender.

Remove from heat and place the vegetables on a serving platter or bowl. Squeeze the lime half over the vegetables, then strip the thyme off the stems and sprinkle it over the plate, and serve.

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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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