butternut squash is salted and dressed with olive oil,
white wine vinegar, 'Calabrian' chilies and mint.
or not, it’s the season for squash. And it has arrived
early in Western Pennsylvania because August was so dry.
we can wait until a stretch of proper fall weather to buy
them. But after I visited Tom Culton’s farm in Lancaster
County about a month ago, I’d like to go back and stock up
for the cold months.
of Culton Organics produces some truly memorable fruits and
vegetables: The kind that are so delicious, he could start a
cult. A 10th-generation farmer, Culton farms with his
grandfather Pete Herchelroth, who even in his 80s still
tends to their 53 acres every day.
35-year-old supplies fruits and vegetables to a handful of
restaurateurs such as Marc Vetri (who has restaurants in
Philadelphia) and Daniel Boulud (who has restaurants in New
York City and Washington, D.C., among other cities), and
celebrity chef Tom Colicchio of "Top Chef" (who
owns restaurants in New York City and Las Vegas).
walked through the fields in August, Culton picked up a vert
grimpant, a melon the size of a cantaloupe, dappled with
yellow and green, and he broke it open on the ground. It was
the most amazing melon I’ve ever eaten, with a pale soft,
friend and I drove back to Pittsburgh with a carload of
them, the most intensely floral and sensual my little Honda
will ever smell.
years ago, Culton grew a squash that weighed 70 pounds,
which he took with him when he was a guest on the "Late
Show With David Letterman." He appeared on the show
because of his rock-star farmer status.
size wasn’t so unusual — for the squash, anyway. The ‘Long
of Naples’ varietal grows on average up to 25 pounds. This
one had grown so large, he said, because all the flowers but
one had been knocked off the vine, so the one left produced
an outsized gourd.
‘Long of Naples’ is one of dozens of heirloom plants
Culton grows, along with many varieties of tomatoes,
cardoons, garlic, globe artichokes, asparagus and more than
200 varieties of peppers — including the coveted ‘Espelette.’
he said, are usually ready no earlier than the last week of
come in all shapes and sizes. He’s growing the ‘Musquee
de Provence’ with a mottled rind so beautiful that it
could be featured in a still life. Then there’s the pink
banana squash that looks like the name. It’s among his
favorite because it is so flavorful.
really, really love it," he said. "I don’t have
to do much to them as far as the growing season. And they’ll
hold for two to six months."
fruits and vegetables are highly coveted, although they can
be expensive at $4 each for melons, and ranging from 80
cents to $1.50 a pound for squash.
that’s the thing about these heirloom varieties grown by
farmers who really know what they’re doing. They’re fun
to hunt down to use when preparing that extraordinary meal.
closer to home offer some really nice ‘Blue Hubbard’
squash or Kabochas that you can get through Penn’s Corner
Farm Alliance, or at the farmers markets that stretch
can last a long time, especially if you store them in an
unheated garage that hovers above 40 degrees. Keep them out
of direct sunlight, Culton said.
you cut into a large squash, it will keep. He suggests
wrapping it in plastic and storing it in the refrigerator,
which can preserve it for close to a month.
squash becomes ubiquitous in mid- to late fall, I like to
vary preparations. I wish restaurants would do it more
often, too, and go beyond butternut squash soup and ravioli.
take a fried squash triangle anytime, served as a snack or
dessert. I’m also in love with Pasta Con Zucca — cubed,
braised squash cooked so long and slow that it melds into a
sauce of sorts, coating short noodles such as pasta mista or
friend introduced me to a grilled version of squash that is
very simple. Cut a Kabocha in half-moons about a half-inch
thick. Lightly oil the pieces with olive oil, then transfer
them to the grates.
the slices are cooked through, drop them in a large bowl
with a minced chili — be it a Thai bird, ‘Calabrian’
or even a cherry pepper. Drizzle with good olive oil and a
dash of white wine vinegar. Let it sit for a bit, but not
too long. Garnish with mint and serve.
the dish that steals the show.
is an easy recipe, but it requires patience. Don’t add too
much liquid at a time, and allow the liquid to thicken
tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
whole clove of garlic
butternut squash, peeled and cubed
pasta mista or mezze maniche
sprigs of Italian parsley, chopped
and pepper to taste
large saute pan on medium-high. When it’s hot, add olive
oil and add the whole clove of garlic. Turn it down to
medium and allow the clove to season the oil.
2 or 3 minutes, remove the clove. Add cubed squash. Turn
heat down to a simmer and cover. Check often to ensure the
pan still has liquid in it. Add olive oil as needed and stir
the squash so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan or
brown for about 20 minutes.
squash has cooked through and soft, add 2 cups of pasta, a
sprinkle of sea salt and turn up the heat to medium high.
Add enough water so that pasta and squash are covered by
liquid. Stir periodically.
goal here is to cook the pasta to al dente (and not to
overcook it). A second goal is to allow the starch from the
pasta and squash to bind to make a sauce.
there is too much liquid in the pan, the sauce won’t
thicken. If there’s not enough, the pasta won’t cook
evenly. So be judicious in adding liquid.
pasta cooks, stir more frequently. The liquid will start to
thicken. After pasta is cooked, transfer to a serving plate,
add black pepper and garnish with chopped Italian parsley or
grated Parmesan if desired.
cups squash, peeled and cut in wedges
cup extra virgin olive oil
and pepper to taste
bird or Calabrian chili, or one cherry pepper, seeded and
mint leaves, cut in a chiffonade
the grill and allow it to get hot.
you have peeled the squash, cut it in 1/2 wedges or half
moons. Be sure they’re not too thin so they don’t fall
apart on the grill. Then pour a quarter-sized dollop of
olive oil in the bottom of a large bowl. Transfer wedges to
the bowl and coat them with a light sheen of olive oil.
the squash for somewhere between 3 and 5 minutes, turning
once as needed.
the slices are cooked through, transfer them back to the
bowl and salt liberally — be sure to taste as you go. Add
a touch more olive oil and a dash of white wine vinegar.
Then add pepper, mint and black pepper, if you like. Let sit
for a few minutes before serving.