While often overlooked in the market, winter squash is and should be making a comeback. True, it isn’t appealing to the eye with its gnarly skin and ominous outward appearance, but in reality winter squash is a delight to prepare once broken down to manageable pieces. My hope with these three recipes is to inspire more people to not overlook this veggie. Our region is perfect for growing some of the more hardy varieties, allowing us to buy local squash throughout the winter. Choose winter squash over the easier options of zucchini or yellow squash because those have traveled many miles to get here. Enjoy!

Roasted Acorn Squash

Roasted Acorn Squash with White Bean Ragout and Pumpkin Seed Pesto
Serves 6

Ingredients:

Squash: 2 acorn squash, cut into wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt, coriander and chili powder
½ teaspoon cayenne

White Beans:
cup dry white beans – soaking in water overnight
½ onion, diced
2 tablespoons sage
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoons salt
1 can diced tomato

Pesto:
½ cup raw pumpkin seeds – toasted
1 small garlic clove
1 cup parsley
1 cup cilantro
¹⁄³ cup parmesan
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Juice of half of a lime

Directions:

Squash:
Heat the oven to 375 degrees, line a baking sheet pan with parchment paper and oil lightly
Toss squash with olive oil, honey, salt and pepper
3 Space evenly on sheet pan, bake 30-40 minutes, or until tender.

For the Beans:
Rinse soaked beans and cook with water, onion, sage, bay leaves and tomatoes for about 1 1/2 hours or until tender.
Check liquid levels often so you don’t burn the beans. The beans need to have a bit of broth with them.
3 Add salt to taste.

For the Pesto:
Combine all ingredients, except olive oil in a food processor or mortar and pestle.
Grind or combine to paste and then slowly add olive oil.
Should be a bit runny, add more olive oil if necessary.

To assemble:
Ladle beans into a bowl and place roasted squash in the center of plate.
Drizzle with pesto and add garnish of your favorite feta cheese and cilantro leaves. 

Winter Squash Soup

Winter Squash Soup
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

1½ cups chopped onion
¾ cup chopped carrots
½ cup chopped celery
cups of peeled and chopped winter squash
2 tablespoons white pepper
1 teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon chopped sage
6 cups water
1 ripe pear, peeled and chopped
1 can of coconut milk
½ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
¼ cup cider vinegar

Directions
1 Sauté onion, carrots, celery for two minutes in the canola oil.
Add squash, sage, salt and pepper and sauté five minutes longer.
Add brown sugar, vinegar and sauté one minute.
Add water and cook until veggies are tender with a lid for 20-30 minutes.
5 Add pears and coconut milk and cook for five minutes.
6 Puree soup with a blender.
7 Garnish with toasted pumpkin sees and diced pears.

pumpkin bread pudding

Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Serves 8-10

Ingredients:
1½ cups pumpkin puree
4 cups half & half
8 eggs
3 cups sugar
½ teaspoon of each: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt
stick vanilla, remove seeds and set aside
3 oz. melted butter
8 cups bread, broken into pieces

Directions:
For pumpkin puree (pumpkins are a sweet winter squash)
1 Peel pumpkins and cut into 1-inch pieces.
Boil in water for 20 minutes or until tender.
Blend in food processor or smash with hands.
Freeze extra puree or cooked pieces in a zip lock for later use. 

1 Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk eggs and sugar until smooth. Add pumpkin puree and whisk again.
3 Heat half & half with vanilla seeds until almost simmering, then slowly add warm half & half to sugar mixture.
Toss in bread, salt and remaining spices; let soak for five minutes.
Butter an 8-by-11 inch glass pan or cast iron enamel casserole pan and fill with pudding mixture.
Lightly brush top with melted butter and a little sugar.
Bake one hour or until completely puffy and slightly springy. 

Three Forks Grille is located in downtown Columbia Falls, just a short distance from the wild and scenic three forks of the famed Flathead River.  Head chef Chris DiMaio takes pride in his original dishes and recipes by using only the best local ingredients. He supports many local growers, something that is important to his mission. For more information, visit www.threeforksgrille.com.