If you’ve been to a farmers market or supermarket produce section lately, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that pumpkins and hard winter squash are in season. (Or maybe you just saw your neighbors decorating for Halloween.) These are different varieties than summer squash, planted in midsummer and harvested in fall and winter when their rinds have hardened. They’re generally high in vitamins and minerals. Legend has it the people of the Italian city of Chioggia once survived a famine sustained entirely by a single variety of squash.
That squash, known as Marina di Chiogga, is just one of 10 types offered now at Kerry Clasby’s Downtown Third Farmers Market, held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday. They can be used to make everything from pastas and soup to desserts. “Hard winter squash is a great thing that God put here for us to make sure we would have sustenance, even in the times when [other] things weren’t growing,” Clasby says.
But when you’re shopping for a winter squash, how do you know you’re getting a good one? You can’t squeeze it like a melon or a tomato to see if it’s ripe. In fact, “ripeness” isn’t even a quality you’re looking for in some squash. Many varieties need to be “cured” in the sun for up to eight weeks after they’re picked. That’s when their delicious sugars develop. And Clasby says the only way to assure a squash is ready to eat is to buy it from farmers or purveyors you trust, and to ask “when was it picked, how long has it been cured, and is it ready to go or should I wait [to eat it]?”
For those who want to put the buying—and the cooking—in the hands of a pro, here are a few of the more interesting seasonal winter-squash dishes available around Valley right now.
Butternut Squash Farro Risotto
Squash risotto is a very traditional dish. But the chefs at Top of the World put a twist on it by making it with farro rather than rice. They serve it with Moroccan-spiced Colorado lamb, Moorish tomato sauce, minted Greek yogurt, demi-glace and house-made harissa. In the Stratosphere, 702-380-7711.
For most of the year, the signature soup at Restaurant Guy Savoy is truffle artichoke. But in the fall, the chef makes his signature pumpkin soup, which is served tableside from a massive hollowed pumpkin and topped with white truffles and a poached egg. In Caesars Palace, 702-731-7286.
Spaghetti squash is a healthy, low-carb alternative to pasta. At Aureole, Charlie Palmer’s team serves it alongside a loin of rare Iberico pork wrapped in bacon, a poached pear and gingerbread streusel. In Mandalay Bay, 702-632-7401.
Kabocha is an Asian winter squash. Beginning October 30, Comme Ça will be using it in two dishes. In the duck confit appetizer it will come alongside cranberry beans and quince. In the salmon entrée it’ll be scented with vanilla and accompanied by braised salsify, Brussels sprout leaves and pomegranate. In the Cosmopolitan, 702-698-7910.
Butternut Squash Ravioli
This is one of the most classic squash pasta dishes there is. At N9NE Steakhouse, chefs puree the roasted squash, stuff the pasta pockets with the puree, boil them and top them with sage-butter sauce and a dollop of mascarpone cheese. In the Palms, 702-933-9900.