Loading up on squash in all its varieties? You’ll want these two recipes

  • The squash and leek soup is bolstered by other aromatics, garlic and onion, along with a hit of heat from red chile. Serve cheesy quesadillas on the side for a fantastic fall dinner. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

  • The squash and sweet potato hash makes a fabulous side dish for Thanksgiving dinner. Or, serve it topped with a fried egg and slices of smoky ham for a weekend brunch. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

As a country, we unite over squash. Seriously, we do. It’s called pumpkin. From pie to quick breads, pancakes and more — we lap up the subtle, sweet flavor. Even its seeds have fans.

However, most of us don’t think of pumpkin as squash. This diverse group of fruits of various members of the gourd family come in all shapes, sizes, color and patterns, including pumpkins, butternut, Hubbard, spaghetti, acorn and buttercup.

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Every fall, I stock up on good-looking varieties at farmers markets, farm stands and grocery stores. They look great as an arrangement on the kitchen counter. But make no mistake: I really want to cook these beauties!

I occasionally make my mother’s version of acorn squash: Baked wedges dripping in butter and brown sugar. But, it’s the savory goodies I can make with these naturally sweet winter species that really motivate. Stuffed, pureed, mashed, roasted, steamed, creamed, baked and grilled — almost any cooking method works. Just avoid boiling squash — it tends to turn to watery mush.

This fall, a relatively new addition to the produce selection — the Honeynut, enchants. Similar in shape to a butternut (but about half the size), this hybrid is a cross between a butternut and a buttercup. I find it to be sweeter than either of those, with a tender orange pulp that cooks relatively quickly. It makes a delicious steamed side dish topped simply with butter, or a beautifully textured soup. Pureed, I serve it dolloped with plain yogurt and a little maple syrup for breakfast.

Most squash are interchangeable in most recipes. Just think about the peel — some, such as the buttercup, have peels tender enough to eat cooked. Others, such as acorn, Hubbard, pumpkin, kabocha and red kuri, have peels that stay unpleasantly tough and need to be removed either before or after cooking.

When the squash is too difficult to peel easily, (such as Hubbard and kabocha), I cut it into chunks, remove the seeds and put the chunks into a microwave-safe baking dish. Add about 1/2 inch of water to the dish and cover it tightly. Microwave on high, turning the pieces occasionally, until fork-tender. When the squash has cooled, the peel will come off easily with a small knife.

Honeynut and Leek Soup with Smoked Turkey

This recipe takes about an hour to prepare and serves four as a main course

1 Honeynut, small butternut squash, kabocha or pumpkin, about 2 pounds total

1 large or 2 small leeks, ends trimmed

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium (about 7 ounces) sweet onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 small red chile pepper, seeded, finely chopped

1 quart turkey stock, chicken broth or vegetable broth

Salt, freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream, optional

Garnishes:

1/2 pound smoked turkey, diced

3/4 cup shredded sharp cheese, such as Asiago or Romano

1 1/2 to 2 cups hearty croutons

Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

Extra-virgin olive oil

Cut squash in half through the stem end. Scoop out seeds. Cut away all the rind. Cut flesh into 1-inch pieces. You’ll have 4 generous cups weighing about 1 pound.

Cut leek lengthwise in half; rinse well. Cut each half crosswise into thin slices including most of the green.

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven set over medium heat. Add squash, leek and onion. Cook, stirring often, to soften the vegetables a bit, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic and chile. Cook, 2 minutes. Add broth; simmer, partly covered over low heat, stirring often, until squash is tender, about 15 minutes for Honeynut or up to 25 minutes for other squash varieties.

Use an immersion blender to puree soup just to the point where it is creamy but still retains visible pieces of vegetables. (Alternatively, work in small batches to puree half of the soup in a blender. Return all the soup to the pot.) Adjust soup consistency by adding a little water (or more broth) so it has the consistency of heavy cream. Season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Stir in cream if using. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Pile a little smoked turkey and cheese into each serving bowl. Top with a ladle or two of the hot soup. Add a few croutons and sprinkling of cilantro or parsley. Garnish with dots of olive oil. Serve.

Delicata Squash and Sweet Potato Hash

This recipe takes about 45 minutes to prepare and serves six

You can substitute 1 pound frozen diced squash for the fresh squash. Skip steps 1 and 2 of the recipe.

2 delicata or sweet dumpling squash, about 2 pounds total or 1 small butternut or red kuri

1 large sweet potato, about 12 ounces

1/4 cup expeller-pressed canola oil, safflower oil, bacon fat or coconut oil

2 or 3 strips of thickly sliced smoky bacon, finely diced

1 medium onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed

1 small red chile pepper, seeded, minced

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

Chopped fresh chives, cilantro or parsley

Hot sauce

Cut ends off squash. Cut squash in half through the stem end. Scoop out seeds. Place cut side down in a microwave-safe dish. Add about 1/2 inch water to dish. Cover dish with lid or plastic wrap vented at one corner. Microwave on high (100% power), 5 minutes. Flip squash, cover and microwave on high until fork-tender, about 3 minutes. Cool.

Drain water from squash. Cut squash into small dice. You’ll have about 4 generous cups weighing 1 pound. (Refrigerate covered up to 2 days.)

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Pierce sweet potato in several places with a fork. Microwave on high until soft, about 5 minutes. Let cool; then peel, slice and dice.

Heat a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add oil, bacon and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden, about 6 minutes. Add squash pieces. Cook, stirring often, until edges start to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in sweet potato, garlic, chile and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium high-heat, stirring once or twice, until vegetables start to get crispy, about 5 minutes. Serve hot, sprinkled with herbs. Pass hot sauce.

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