In season: winter squash

Butternut may be the most common winter squash at local farmers markets, but Megan Busby of Shoot Farm prefers red kuri squash for its sweeter, nuttier flavor and finer texture.

“The first time I saw red kuri squash was when I was shopping at Whole Foods. I saved the label and stuck it in one of my cookbooks, thinking one day I’d like to grow it,” says Busby.

This June, she planted 1,000 feet of red kuri squash on her certified organic farm in Randolph County, Alabama, four miles from the Georgia state line. The property has been farmed since 1801 and Busby is the eighth generation of her family to live and farm on the land.

She’s been farming now for the past five years. “I always knew this is what I would do, and when I turned 55, I figured it was a good time for me to get started,” she said.

Red kuri squash are not the easiest squash to grow. “It’s the one the bugs like best. Vine borers and squash bugs love it. Of my 1,000 row feet, I’ll have about 110 squash to take to market. There’s a learning curve of when to get it planted so the bugs miss it. I expect I’ll have more next year,” she said.

In addition to red kuri squash, Busby is growing red Russian kale, arugula, carrots, French radishes and “Georgia Southern Creole” collards among other heirloom vegetables. She finds heirloom vegetables are a challenge to grow, but she says they taste better so they’re worth the extra work.

She takes her vegetables to the year-round Peachtree City Farmers Market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Her red kuri squash has been “ready” since September, but they weren’t ready for market until early October.

She’s learned that winter squash taste best when they have a chance to rest after fully ripening. “They need to sit a while and cure. Otherwise, they taste green and gourd-like. The curing process completely changes the flavor of the squash and mellows it out.”

Busby’s red kuri squash weigh between 3 and 5 pounds. She finds the easiest way to cook them is to cut the squash in half, remove the seeds and roast the halves upside down on baking sheet. Or grate them and turn them into a gratin. Sometimes she takes the time to peel the squash and cube it, then roast with olive oil and salt and pepper. “I had some of that for breakfast. It’s good! I also like them cooked with Indian spices.”

Red kuri, like other winter squash, have hard, thick skins which make them such good keepers. You can bake them, steam them, braise or stew them. Or enjoy them raw as in the salad recipe included here.

Buy several and store them in a cool, well-ventilated place where they can keep for several months.

Matthew Basford’s Winter Squash and Apple Salad

Basford, executive chef of Canoe Restaurant, makes this salad with African squash, a special variety of butternut squash brought back by a Peace Corps volunteer and grown by several farmers at the Morningside Farmers Market. We tested this recipe with fresh small butternut squash and it will work well with red kuri squash from a local farmers market, as well.

1 cup 1/4-inch strips bacon (about 6 ounces)

1 2-pound African or other winter squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/8-inch sticks (about 8 cups)

2 large Granny Smith apples, quartered, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices (about 4 cups)

1 cup loosely packed baby kale, slivered

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 cup Apple Cider Vinaigrette (see recipe)

Salt and pepper

In a medium skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Drain and reserve fat for another use.

In a large bowl, combine crisp bacon with squash, apple, kale, walnuts, shallot and parsley. Toss. Add vinaigrette and toss. Season to taste. Serve immediately. Serves: 8

Per serving: 331 calories (percent of calories from fat, 65), 10 grams protein, 21 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 25 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 18 milligrams cholesterol, 370 milligrams sodium.

Matthew Basford’s Apple Cider Vinaigrette

1 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

1/2 small onion, diced

1/2 jalapeno, seeds removed and minced

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 cups apple cider

2 cups apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup walnut oil

Salt and pepper

In a medium skillet, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil and saute onion, jalapeno and garlic until translucent, about 5 minutes. Pour in apple cider and apple cider vinegar and boil until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Move apple cider mixture to a large mixing bowl and whisk in remaining olive oil and walnut oil. Season to taste. Made be made ahead and refrigerated up to 5 days. Return to room temperature before using. Makes: 3 1/2 cups

Per 2-tablespoon serving: 103 calories (percent of calories from fat, 87), trace protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 10 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 6 milligrams sodium.

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