Solo meals are not just eaten by those who live as singles but can often be a part of the busy school and work days of families or roommates. The busy holiday season, with school concerts or exams, office get-togethers and gift shopping, can make for more solo meals, as well. What are often seen as seasonal ingredients on holiday tables can be tasty additions to solo meals.
The warmth of the oven in these short, dark winter days is beneficial when preparing winter vegetables like one of my favorites, butternut squash. It is far more versatile than as a mashed side dish. It can be diced into a vegetable hash and served with eggs, chicken, or a pork chop or in a steaming bowl of stew. Or, roasted, diced squash can be a healthful addition to a chilled salad with options such as a rice blend, simple vinaigrette and a dried fruit.
Learning about an ingredient’s origins can be helpful in choosing its preparation partners and seasonings. Squash is one of the true Native American crops that geographically extend from South to North America. It is one of the earliest plants to be farmed. Squash evolved into such an important part of many Native American diets that it became part of the “three sisters” which include squash, green beans and corn. Agriculturally, planting the tall corn provided support for the beans on their climbing vines. The squash, growing on vines but laying on the ground, kept weeds down and kept water from evaporating.
Orange vegetables, like squash, are packed with vitamin A and C. It can aid in strengthening the immune system and provide anti-oxidant help. Nutritionally, the “three sisters” provide complete nutrition. These three vegetables enjoy being together from the ground to the plate. Squash, corn and beans can be the components for a stew or soup, either vegetarian or with chicken stock.
Squash can be roasted in the oven to highlight its hearty, dense flavor. Preheat your oven on to 375 degrees. Using your chef knife (see previous post titled “Three Essential Knives”), chop off the top and bottom ends. Cut into two pieces by chopping the thinner neck from the fatter bulb area. Use a sharp peeler or knife to remove the thick skin. Then, stand the squash pieces so it is standing on one of the flat ends.
Cut the neck portion into slices that are about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. Then, dice these pieces into cubes. The size of the dice will depend on your preference and on the end use. Next, stand the peeled bulb piece and cut in half. With a large spoon, remove the seeds. Again, stand the piece up and slice into pieces the same width as the slices from the neck piece. Dice into same size. Because the bulb is rounded, the diced pieces will not be exactly the same. Dice as close to the same size as you are able.
Put diced squash in a large mixing bowl and toss lightly with a vegetable oil, either neutral oil like canola oil or a flavorful olive oil will work. Spread onto a baking sheet and place in the hot oven. The smaller the dice, the quicker they will roast. Check after 15 minutes. Use a fork to test doneness. Roast a bit more, if needed. Squash pieces should be tender to the center but still firm enough to hold its shape.
Part of the roasted squash, especially the uneven dice from the bulb piece, could be mashed with butter or oil, a bit of salt and even a dash of chili powder or chipotle pepper powder. Mashed squash can be easily frozen in an airtight container, after it is thoroughly cooled off.
The remaining diced squash can be tossed with bottled vinaigrette, cooked rice, particularly a hearty wild rice blend, chopped nuts and dried fruit, like a dried cranberry for a satisfying and healthful to-go lunch.