Squash is abundant, cheap, and a good base for a number of winter recipes. You can easily get a lot of squash and you'll likely be sick of it by the end of the season, so you might as well enjoy it now.
When picking out a squash, use the same criteria as a pumpkin. You want ones with an intact stem, if possible, and a firm skin. Mushy can mean rotten -- it's really the only thing to remember.
Right now you have three main varieties of squash to choose from: acorn, butternut and spaghetti.
The acorn is small and round with ribbed sides. It's easy to bake. Just slice it in half and dab generously with butter. Butternut is beige and shaped like a bell -- the flesh is orange and sweet, the right base for a soup. Both of these squashes are available year round, but butternut is likely to be best at this time of year.
Spaghetti squash is yellow and resembles a small watermelon. Bigger vegetables tend to have more flavor. With spaghetti squash, you'll need to core out the seeds and, after baking or grilling it, you can pull out the flesh, which will be stringy like spaghetti.
Squash can keep for several weeks in a cool, dark space, so they're the vegetable equivalent of the cans you've got in your pantry -- an easy side dish if you're unsure about what to make for dinner.
Paula Deen's squash casserole sounds like a buttery, Ritz-crackery, hot mess on a plate. A similar recipe is a stuffed acorn squash, which uses the squash like a pepper and fills it with an egg, bread and sour cream mixture.
But in addition to being savory, squash dishes can provide a bit of sweetness to a meal, depending on how you glaze them before baking. This recipe for pureed maple squash sounds like a great compliment to a bowl of mashed potatoes. And like tofu, squash can hold a lot of flavor, so sweet and sour winter squash is not as a big a leap as it might sound.
Start by simply grilling or baking squash with butter to determine which variety you like. You can always slice it or serve it in chunks. After that, you can decide whether to add flavors or hide it in a casserole.
[Image via Flickr: WhitA]