Category Archives: Vegetables

Winter Squash Taste Test: Geeky, Yes, But Don’t You Want to Know the Results?

Sometimes, you just don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. Take my boyfriend, Roy, for example. I’m sure when he met me, he had no idea that one day he’d be standing around the kitchen island (which he built for me) with seven spoons and a heap of roasted squash in front of him. Fortunately, what I didn’t know (but suspected) when I met him, is that he’s a really good sport. Last Sunday, he agreed to do the winter squash taste test with me. Lucky him.

I dreamed up this little experiment after we found ourselves in possession of several different kinds of winter squash. I’ve loved taste comparisons ever since I was introduced to them at culinary school years ago. We did a lot of them at Fine Cooking, too, in order to recommend brands of chicken stock or canned tomatoes or olive oil to cooks. The worst taste test we ever did was butter. Tasting 8 different brands of butter in one morning will make anyone feel sick. The best? Bittersweet chocolate, of course. In fact, I’ve learned so much about flavor differences in both natural and manmade products over the years from taste tests, that I’m constantly urging other cooks to conduct their own at home. (A great place to start is with something you buy and use a lot, like extra-virgin olive oil. Buy a few different grocery-store brands and taste them side by side to find your favorite—you’ll be amazed at how different they are. Lately I’ve been liking Trader Joe’s Spanish olive oil.)

But not to belabor the point, here’s how we conducted the squash test: I cut each of the squash in half, scooped out the seeds, seasoned them ever so lightly with a little salt, and roasted them, cut side-down, on buttered parchment paper, until they were completely tender and lightly caramelized (about 1 hour 20 minutes on average). I turned the squash over, let them cool a bit, and scooped some of the flesh out of each for us to taste side by side. We each had one or two bites of each squash, and I took notes on the taste, texture, and color.

The first thing I noticed of course, before we even tasted, was the big range in color and texture among the squash. (To identify the squash, see the photo at the end of the blog with IDs underneath.)The Red Kuri, Buttercup, and Butternut squash have deep orangey-red flesh and a dense texture. The Delicata, Acorn, Sweet Dumpling, and Carnival all had a more yellowy golden flesh, although within them, the texture varies (Delicata and Dumpling being creamy, Acorn and Carnival more fibrous.) The cool part of the comparison, though, was how different they all tasted. Here’s what we thought.

Butternut—smooth, rich, dense flesh with a distinctively nutty flavor
Red Kuri—texture like a baked potato, very robust smoky-nutty flavor, intensely “squashy” in a good way; deeply colored (Susie’s favorite)
Buttercup—dense flesh with a very flavorful flesh reminiscent of caramel and peanuts
Delicata—very creamy flesh, light and bright tasting, flavor hints of summer squash
Carnival—moderately fibrous flesh, light sweet-sour flavor, our least favorite (sorry, Carnival)
Sweet Dumpling—flesh is a bit fibrous but creamy too, very sweet with a bit of tang, a light flavor
Acorn—fibrous texture but with a complex nutty-sweet-bright flavor (Roy’s favorite)

So there you have our unofficial and biased results. I’d recommend trying the Red Kuri if you haven’t, and I’d consider using it or Buttercup in place of Butternut in soups for a richer flavor. Though Carnival is a beguiling looking squash, I’d definitely stick with the similar but better tasting Acorn for stuffing, or go with the pleasantly sweet and creamy Delicata or Dumpling.

Squash IDs, clockwise, starting from top left: Butternut, Acorn, Carnival, Red Kuri, Buttercup, Delicata, Sweet Dumpling

Fruit or veg? Crisp or chutney? Rhubarb Does Double Duty

Technically, I said I was going to write about fruit as well as vegetables when I started this blog. So I could give myself permission to write about rhubarb—if it were a fruit. Which it’s not. (Technically it’s a vegetable).

And technically I could have given you a crisp recipe, but I usually use Karen Barker’s great Rhubarb Brown Sugar Crumble recipe over on the Fine Cooking website. So instead I’m offering up my favorite savory concoction, Rhubarb-Dried Cherry Chutney.  (It’s quick and easy to make and would be really great if you’re grilling pork tenderloin or even chicken this weekend).

And technically (sorry, but I’m lacking in a diverse vocabulary today) I should have blogged about rhubarb when it first poked out of the ground here in late April. But I didn’t. Time slips, you know. Or skids. Or something.

Fortunately, judging by the picture I took at our farmers’ market last year (stalks, above right), rhubarb is still thriving in June.

I took the other photos in April a couple years ago when I first got to the Island. (Not technically, but actually.) I was so fascinated by these bushy plants, which I sometimes found growing near old farmhouses, that I often stuck my camera down beneath their leafy canopies to capture the luminous underworld below, a forest of pink and pale green stalks writhing in dappled sunlight. The flowers (not edible) were a surprise to me, too.

If I had ever snatched any of this farmhouse rhubarb (which I didn’t), I would’ve been sure to trim all the leaves away before cooking. It annoys me to no end when I see rhubarb stalks for sale with the (toxic) leaves still attached. Do not eat the leaves. Period.  And know that the stalks themselves are quite tart. Delicious, but tart. They must be cooked with something sweet, and preferably lots of it.

Sure, sweet strawberries are the classic partner for rhubarb. But in reality, rhubarb appears on the scene so many weeks ahead of fresh (local) strawberries, that it’s nice to have a recipe or two on hand that showcases rhubarb alone. A crisp maybe, or a chutney.

Rhubarb & Dried-Cherry Chutney


1 cup medium-diced fresh rhubarb

½ cup small-diced onion

1⁄4 cup coarsely chopped dried cherries

1⁄4 cup granulated sugar

1⁄4 cup sherry vinegar

1 Tbs. honey

1⁄2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest

1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt


Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, cover, and simmer over medium to medium-low heat until the onions are mostly translucent and the juices are beginning to thicken, about 5 minutes. Uncover and simmer, stirring frequently with a heatproof spatula, until very thick, another 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan before storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Yields about 1 cup.

Ten (Yes, 10) Things to Do with Celery Root

Count your blessings. So you’re stuck with six celery roots the size of footballs? At least they’re edible. Seriously, I know it’s hard to figure out what to do with these things; I’ve had quite a few on my hands recently thanks to my winter CSA share from Whippoorwill Farm. So last week I posted my favorite recipe for a creamy celery root and potato gratin, but I thought you might like a few more ideas, too. So here goes. (Be sure to try the oven roasted “chips.”)

1. Slice celery root into thin matchsticks (or grate it coarsely) and toss it (raw) into a winter salad of endive, sliced pears, toasted walnuts, and blue cheese.

2. Make roasted celery root “chips.” Slice the root in half and then into quarters; then slice each quarter as thinly as possible. (A santoku knife is great for this). Toss the pieces in enough olive oil to coat, sprinkle with salt, spread on a heavy-duty sheet pan; and roast at 350°F until they are mostly a deep golden brown, with some white left. (I think the darker ones are crispier, but too dark and they’ll taste bitter.) Let them cool on the sheet pan to finish crisping up. Sprinkle with more salt and snack on the couch with your favorite DVD.

3.  Since celery root and potatoes are such a great match, use them together in a hearty winter soup. Sauté lots of sliced leeks in butter, add cubed celery root, potatoes, and chicken or vegetable broth, simmer until tender, puree, and enhance with a touch of cream, a little lemon zest, lots of chopped fresh parsley and crispy croutons.

4. Apples and celery root are also happy partners. Use them raw together in a salad, or try roasting them first and adding them to a warm escarole salad with crispy strips of ham and a warm Dijon vinaigrette.

5.  Make a celery root “galette” by lining a tart pan with a couple layers of thinly sliced circles of celery root and gruyere cheese. Bake at 400°F until browned and tender. (Cover for the first half of cooking.) Let cool and slice into wedges.

6. Try a “quick braise” of celery root. Brown diced celery root in a combination of butter and olive oil in a sauté pan, then add just enough liquid (a little broth spiked with apple cider), cover and reduce the liquid to finish cooking the vegetables. Uncover, toss with a little spiced butter, and serve warm.

7. Instead of chips, you can also dice celery root for roasting. Make a quick weeknight side dish of roasted celery root and Yukon Gold potatoes with honey and rosemary. Cut the vegetables into ½-inch dice, toss in olive oil and salt, and roast on a sheet pan at 425°F until browned and tender. Dress lightly with a combination of melted butter, honey, and chopped fresh rosemary.

8. Celery root  is also a good flavor match with seafood.  A bed of celery root puree for a sear-roasted fish filet is delicious. Cut the root (and a few small potatoes) into pieces and simmer them with a few small garlic cloves until tender. Puree the vegetables with a little of the cooking liquid, a bit of cream, and salt and pepper.

9. Instead of a puree, make a celery root “mash” by hand-mashing cooked celery root and potatoes together with butter and milk and a little sautéed garlic. Serve with pot roast.

10. For an elegant holiday side dish—or even a hearty weeknight main dish with a salad—make my recipe for a celery root and potato gratin I use a combination of heavy cream and chicken broth so it is rich but not too heavy; this is a good dish to introduce celery root to folks.

More Delicious Ways to Cook Fingerling Potatoes

A while back I posted my favorite way to cook fingerling potatoes–the stovetop braise–and a yummy sample recipe, Braised Fingerlings with Crispy Sage and Tender Garlic. But the reality is, thanks to my CSA at Whippoorwill Farm here on Martha’s Vineyard, I was swamped with fingerling potatoes last summer and fall, so happily, I have a few other suggestions for using them. I figured I’d pass them on to you here, as many are good options for winter cooking, too.

  • Boiled fingerlings hold their shape really well, so use them (cut in half or other pieces) in warm salads (like with frisee, bacon, and a poached egg or a garlic crostini) or other composed salads like a grilled tuna or salmon Niçoise.
  • Cut into a few chunks and boiled, fingerlings are then perfect for “crushing” or smashing with roasted garlic and a bit of cream (or sour cream), butter, and chives.  These smashed potatoes make a perfect bed for beef stew.
  • Make a quick and delicious fish chowder by starting with sautéed leeks, simmering chopped fingerlings in the same pot, adding corn kernels and pieces of cod or haddock, and finishing with chopped fresh dill, a dash of cream, a squeeze of lemon, and lots of fresh pepper.
  • If you like the hands-off cooking of oven-roasting, don’t despair. You can oven-braise fingerlings by laying them flat, cut-side down, in an oiled Pyrex baking dish. Season with salt, dot with a few dabs of butter, and pour enough chicken broth in the pan to cover the potatoes. Cover with aluminum foil and cook (at about 375°F) until the potatoes are almost tender. Remove the foil and cook until the broth has reduced almost completely and the potatoes are browned. There’ll be some nice glazy stuff on the bottom of the pan.
  • Dice fingerlings and sauté slowly in lots of oil in a cast iron skillet until browned all around and tender through. Season with lots of salt. Voila, crispy “fried” fingerlings. Add sautéed onions and crush a bit for a more hash-like dish.
  • Most fingerlings have such outstanding “potato” flavor (nutty, earthy, and rich), that they’re perfect in cold potato salads, too. Try one with fresh peas, mint, and a light lemony-mayonnaise and yogurt mix in springtime.
  • The firm texture of cooked fingerlings makes them perfect for simple Indian curries, too. Add shrimp, peas, and chopped fresh cilantro to make dinner.