A Harvest of Pumpkins and Squash
By Lou Seibert Pappas
Published by Chronicle/Raincoast 2008, hardcover, $17.95; 96 pages

I never warmed much to squash as a kid, and aside from pumpkin pie, I don’t know too many kids who jump for joy when they see squash on the table.

Unless there were great lashings of sugar and spice involved, squash, particularly winter squash, always tasted, well, too squashy to me when I was little.

That was then. As my picky palate matured, I began to open up to an expanded  world of wonderful flavours. I always liked pumpkin pie, but I was amazed to discover I liked pumpkin soup even better.  And when a dear friend introduced me to kabocha squash (also known as Japanese pumpkin), I found I liked this sweetly delicate vegetable almost as much as I used to like candy.

And now, of course, there’s the added bonus of knowing just how nutritious these brightly coloured vegetables are: Winter squash is bursting with beta-carotene, vitamin C, potassium, dietary fibre, omega-3 fatty acids and various B vitamins.

But how many times can you serve squash if you only ever bake it with a little butter and perhaps some brown sugar or maple syrup? This book rides to the rescue.

Lou Seibert Pappas has written more than 50 cookbooks, many of them themed collections of recipes focusing on one food, such as this one.

Pappas offers a great introduction to the wide variety of both summer and winter squash, gives us a rundown on the history of squash, and offers hints on buying, storing and cooking the vegetables. Summer squash, in the form of zucchini and other tender-skinned varieties, has enjoyed a long love affair with foodies, but aside from pumpkin and acorn squash, most winter varieties aren’t as familiar to us, as witness my introduction only a few years ago to the sweet seductions of kabocha.

But with more people interested in locally grown produce, and more small growers willing to try heirloom varieties such as delicata, sweet dumpling  and mini-hubbards, they are becoming more widely available. All the squashes I’ve just mentioned I found at a lovely farm in Agassiz recently.

Squash can be baked or steamed and served as a side dish. Or it can be cooked until soft, pureed in a blender or processor and used in cakes, muffins, cookies, pies, soups, souffles and salads. Pappas has recipes for all these in her book. Here’s one featuring the kabocha, my favourite squash. Pappas suggests serving this hearty soup with crusty sourdough bread and an arugula and goat cheese salad. You can substitute butternut squash or sugar pumpkin, if you like.

Moroccan Meatball, Chard and Kabocha Squash Soup

1 lb. ground lamb or ground beef
3 tbsps. cornstarch
1 large egg
3 tbsps. minced fresh cilantro
½ tsp. ground allspice
1 clove garlic, minced

1 bunch Swiss chard (about 12 oz.)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1 stalk fennel or celery, chopped
2 tsps. grated peeled fresh ginger
½ tsp. ground allspice
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground black pepper
1 ½ quarts beef broth
2 cups diced kabocha squash (3/8-inch dice)
5 tbsps. tomato paste
6 red or yellow plum (Roma) tomatoes, sliced
Salt to taste
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

To make meatballs, in a bowl, combine the lamb, cornstarch, egg, cilantro, allspice and garlic and mix lightly. Shape into 3/4-inch meatballs.

Remove the ribs from the Swiss chard and slice thinly crosswise. Chop the leaves separately; set aside. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add chard ribs, onion, carrot, and fennel or celery and saute until limp (about 5 minutes). Add ginger, allspice, cumin, pepper, broth, squash and tomato paste; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, carefully drop meatballs into hot broth. Add chard leaves and tomatoes. Simmer for 5-6 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender and meatballs are cooked through. Season to taste with salt.

Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

– From A Harvest of Pumpkins and Squash