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I swear I’m seeing winter squash everywhere these days–not just at the market, but even at random places like Target. Everyone’s selling them–and not just the traditional Charlie Brown Halloween pumpkin but all sorts of interesting varieties like big Fairytale and Cinderellas, Sweet Dumplings and Tiger Stripes, L’il Tigers, and Blues. I’m sure you have your favorites in your region, but if there’s an opportunity to experiment with varieties you haven’t tried, give it a go.

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Blue pumpkins

Winter squash are a marvelously deceptive vegetable. They look so hard and tough and impenetrable, but cook up to some of the sweetest and tenderest of edibles. I love the variety of clothing they wear–soothing cream, sexy blue, bright orange, rocking stripes, dappled sprays of color. But it’s only skin deep. Peel any of these hard squash and you get a glorious orange flesh that surrounds what may be the best part of all–the seeds.

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The flavors of a freshly cooked pumpkin are so beyond what you get with the canned version that it’s worth the effort to peel and clean them for everything from pies and muffins to stews and soups. I love roasting pumpkin with other vegetables for a thick mellow soup. And, I enjoy chopping them up and adding the pieces to sweet and savory ingredients for a one-dish baked meal.

No doubt most of you use a traditional casserole dish or perhaps a high-quality enameled cast-iron pot to make a large one-dish meal. I love those, too, but I’m going to invite you to try something very traditional but perhaps new to you: cooking in clay pots.

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If you are a cookbook junkie you’re probably familiar with longtime food writer and teacher Paula Wolfert. Her expertise is Mediterranean cooking and she wrote a book a few years ago called Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking that won over many fans, including our friend Caron Golden, who has since been collecting clay pots of all kinds and experimenting.

Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking

Winter squash is the perfect ingredient for this style of cooking. All you need is a stoneware pot. Caron used this gorgeous silky brown 2 1/2-quart casserole made by San Diego potter Roberta Klein to make the dish below. Don’t worry about it cracking. As long as you don’t preheat the oven, but instead let the pot warm with the rising temperature, it should be fine. And, of course, make sure that the glaze is lead free.

Roberta Klein casserole

Caron came up with a recipe for a one-pot winter squash dish based on ingredients she happened to have in her kitchen, other than the squash. You can find frozen giant Cuzco corn at Latin markets. Native to Peru, they’re filled with protein, and have a dense chewy texture, making them perfect for stews and soups because they keep their shape. But if you can’t find them, just add something else like garbanzo beans. Same with the sausage. In her one-dish meal she added a couple of spicy and sweet apricot chipotle pork sausages she bought from a local rancher. While its juices and meat added a lot of flavor and some nice heat, this dish would work just as well without meat for a vegetarian meal–or with other protein selections.

Serve this with a hearty grain like quinoa, wild rice, barley, farro, or kasha (buckwheat groats).

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Clay Pot Winter Squash
Serves 6

Ingredients
2 pounds winter squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped into 1-inch pieces (save the squash seeds)
1/2 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups giant Cuzco corn (you can find frozen in Hispanic markets)
1 cup golden raisins or other dried fruit
2 large fresh sausages, sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup olive oil or 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup pumpkin or butternut squash oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar, plus more to sprinkle on toward end of baking
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
ground pepper to taste

Directions

1. Combine all the ingredients except the squash seeds and extra brown sugar and mix well. Add to 2 1/2-quart or larger stoneware pot and cover. Place the pot in the middle rack of the oven. Heat oven to 375. Bake.

2. Put squash seeds in a colander and rinse, separating the seeds from one another and the squash fibers. Let dry. Then toss with olive oil and salt. Spread on a baking sheet or aluminum foil. Toast in the oven with the squash for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool.

3. Check the squash at about an hour and 15 minutes. If the squash isn’t completely cooked through, cover and cook another 15 minutes. When it is cooked through, sprinkle the mixture with brown sugar and let cook another 15 minutes uncovered. Remove from the oven and serve, sprinkling with toasted squash seeds to garnish.

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Do you cook with clay pots? What’s your favorite, most unusual recipe?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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