Talk about commitment to your cucurbits — a squash that you start in spring and grow through summer and harvest in fall and eat through winter? Welcome to the world of winter squash.
These summer annuals (Cucurbita moschata) differ from summer squash in that they are left to mature on the vine, through the end of the season, and picked when all their seeds have fully developed and their skins have hardened into burly rinds. Winter squash are naturally designed for long-term storage, so that you can still savor the flavor right up until you start sowing the next year’s seeds.
One of my favorite homegrown varieties this year is a rare Japanese heirloom called Black Futsu, which is quite the chameleon in the garden!
The squash begins as a deep, dark green (almost black) fruit with heavy ribbing, bumps and warts.
As it matures, the skin slowly turns dull with hints of yellow…
Then it takes on a rather strange and moldy appearance — in fact, I almost thought at first that all my plants had gone mildewy! But this is a natural process of toughening up the squash for storage, and once the skin has turned a grayish hue, it can be harvested and kept in a cool, dark larder (does anyone have one of those anymore?) for around six months.
If you can wait another few weeks for harvest — as the skin transforms again into patches of orange — it will keep even longer. In storage, the squash will eventually settle into a tan or light brown color.
Black Futsu is a small squash variety, ranging from the size of a grapefruit to about three times that size. On the smaller end, it makes a good full lunch for one; on the larger end, it will feed up to four folks as a side dish.
Once you cut it open, you’ll find bright orange flesh with a flavor crossed between a pumpkin and a chestnut — sweet, buttery, and slightly nutty. Unlike the thick skins on many other winter squash, the relatively thin skin on Black Futsu remains edible.
I like to slice the squash in half (especially the smaller ones) and roast with a little olive oil, salt and pepper until the flesh becomes soft and the skin becomes crisp. If I want to get really fancy, I’ll stuff the halves with a sprinkling of bacon and cheese (and whatever I find in the fridge).
For larger squash, you can slice them into 1/2-inch or 1-inch wedges, toss with your favorite oil and spices, and roast at 425°F for about 30 minutes. These roasted slices actually come out tasting like sweet potato fries! So. Delicious.
I have five Black Futsus squirreled away for winter, and can’t wait to try a few new recipes in the coming months!