Creative cooks choose butternut squash for color, flavor

Piles of squash sit side by side in many supermarkets all winter long, although they hardly look like the same family. Acorns, with their ridges and dark green skins, have become the squash choice of the new chefs, who turn each dinner plate into an artistic still life with leek fronds, pools of pureed tomato, and scalloped, cross-cut sections of acorn squash.

The butternuts wear their attractiveness with less dramatic flair. But inside, both are much the same, with joyous color and a bland flavor that is almost as accommodating as the potato.

The butternut, I find, lends itself to more creative cooking, and simply because its sibling, the green acorn, has been taken up by the artistic chefs, I find that the butternut appeals to me more than ever.

The place to go for ideas when it comes to squash is South America. There in chunks and purees, squash and pumpkin appear in stews and soups as well as desserts to perk up the color. The Caribbean Pork Roast below can be found in most of the Spanish-speaking countries, and the same holds true for the squash simmered in syrup. A bisque and a pudding both celebrate the squash's lovely orange color. Bisque of Butternut Squash With Apple 1 small butternut squash, about 1 pound 2 tart green apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped 1/2 teaspoon rosemary 1 quart chicken stock, homemade or canned 2 slices white bread, trimmed and cubed 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 2 egg yolks 1/4 cup heavy cream

Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Combine squash, apples, onion, herbs, stock, bread crumbs, salt, and pepper in heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft.

Scoop flesh from squash and discard skins. Return pulp to soup and puree in blender or food processor until smooth. Return to saucepan. Beat egg yolks and cream together, beat in a little soup, and return all to the saucepan. Heat, but do not boil, and serve immediately, garnished with apple slices. Serves 4 to 6. Caribbean Roast Pork With Vegetables 3 pounds fresh pork loin roast 2 tablespoons chopped garlic 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 1 teaspoon dried oregano 4 large or 6 medium potatoes, peeled 1 2-pound butternut squash 2 green bananas, or ripe plantain

Add salt, pepper, and organo over chopped garlic on a chopping board. Chop with a straight-bladed knife until ingredients are very fine and salt has absorbed moisture from garlic. Rub carefully into all surfaces of pork loin, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and marinate in refrigerator for one or two days.

Uncover and place in baking pan large enough to accommodate vegetables and begin to bake in preheated 350-degree F. oven for 1 1/2 hours, basting occasionally.

Meanwhile, prepare vegetables. If potatoes are large, cut in half. Cut butternut squash in half at base of neck and reserve bulbous bottom for pudding or bisque. Peel neck, halve, and cut each half into 3 pieces. After roast has heated 1 1/2 hours, add potatoes to pan, turning them in pan juices to season them, and 15 minutes later, do the same with bananas or plantains, which have been peeled and cut in 2-inch pieces. Each time baste roast also.

When vegetables and roast are done, they should have absorbed most of the pan juices. Carve pork in thick slices and serve to six with vegetables. Butternut Squash Pudding 1 1/2 cups butternut or other winter squash, cooked and mashed 3/4 cup brown sugar 2 tablespoons flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon each ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg 1 1/2 cups milk 3 large eggs, lightly beaten 1/4 cup each chopped walnuts and dates Sour cream and cinnamon sugar

In saucepan, combine mashed squash, brown sugar, flour, salt and spices, and milk. Heat, stirring together just to boiling point. Whisk some of hot mixture into eggs to warm them, then combine mixtures. Stir in walnuts and dates.

Pour into a well-buttered 8-inch-square baking pan and bake at 350-degree F. for 45 minutes. Serve warm topped with sour cream lightly sweetened with cinnamon sugar, made by combining 1 tablespoon cinnamon with 1/2 cup sugar. Serves 4 to 6. Calabaza Enmielda

Halve, seed, and peel a 1- to 1 1/2-pound butternut squash. Cut into wedges and arrange in skillet in 1 layer. Rub 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon into 3/4 cup brown sugar and sprinkle evenly over squash. Add water to skillet to dept of 1/4 inch , cover tightly, and simmer until squash is tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.Tip skillet occasionally and baste squash to coat with syrup that forms. Serve immediately in small bowls with warm milk as dessert on a cold night. Elene Zelayeta, a cookbook author, says this is a Mexican breakfast dish. Try it either way.

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