Unlike winter squash, people often don’t know the varietal of the summer squash they are selling. I tried three from the farmer’s market that the sellers couldn’t identify- a yellow one with a bulbous end and light yellow stripes, a small green striped one, and a short, plump light green one. Looking at The Compleat Squash, my best guess is that the small striped one is Striato d’Italia and the plump green one is Costata Romanesco. That book didn’t have any striped yellow summer squashes, but a seed catalogue online has a similar looking hybrid squash called Sunbeam.
Yellow: not much flavour when raw. Grilled, it had a nice flavour but didn’t stand out from other squash I have had.
Small Green: buttery and delicious when raw. This one actually surprised me – I haven’t had a squash that tasted like this before. Grilled or sautéed it did not stand out from the other squashes, though.
Plump green: unpleasantly astringent when raw. Fine, but nothing special when grilled or sauteed.
It looks like a cantaloupe on the outside. It looks like a honeydew on the inside. Galia a hybrid melon (but not a honeydew cantaloupe cross), and I got a local one from the food co-op recently. It has a pretty subtle flavour: sort of like a cantaloupe, but without the musky taste. The texture is a little softer than a honeydew, but not as meaty as a cantaloupe. I like it, but it’s not blowing me away or anything.
The first summer squash of the season that I chose was yellow crookneck – this the best I could find readily available in Toronto last summer. The skin and flesh are tender even when fairly large, and even better it retains a subtle squash-y flavour when large as well; it’s not some bland generic zucchini. I don’t think it quite matches the sweet, nutty flavour of the Italian summer squash I grew in PEI, but it’s tasty raw and cooked. I grilled it for one meal, and ate it raw as squash “noodles” for another. The challenge for the summer will be to see if I can find any summer squash locally that beats last year’s best.
OK, so the winter squash, my first (curcubit) love, is long gone for the year, and it will be months until it returns*.
But, we soldier on, and there are summer squashes, melons, and other interesting squash relations to try.
Today I made winter melon soup, basically a simple, light scallion and ginger broth with shiitakes and cilantro, good for summer and also suitable for this subtle-flavoured melon. So, winter melon, aka ash gourd: once it was cooked in the soup, it just tasted like the broth but had a texture similar to raw cantaloupe. It was enjoyable but not earth-shattering. I wouldn’t mind eating it again, but probably won’t go out of my way. I did taste a chunk of it raw, and liked it a lot more – I could taste the fresh, delicate flavour sort of like an unsweetened honeydew melon but crunchy like a watermelon. I would use it in a fruit salad, or make a salsa of it with tomatoes and cilantro, or add it to a vegetable salad.
*On the plus side, one of my favourite squash farmers has planted (for the first time) and agreed to pre-sell me as many tiger stripe butternut squash as I want, come the Fall
The last local winter squash ran out a little while ago but I ate my final squash today; it was the miso-fermented squash I put away in early March.
The inspiration for the recipe came from the book Preserving the Japanese Way – an amazing book (available at the Toronto Public Library) full of unusual fermentation recipes. I just left it a lot longer than the book called for. The sliced squash basically just sat in two types of miso, a little salt, and homemade Japanese 7-spice for 4 months, which soften, flavoured, and soured the squash over time in the fridge. It’s not pretty, but it’s tasty.
I just finished a batch of sweet (i.e. only fermented 2-3 months instead of years, so more salty-sweet) miso.
So, usually koji is made using soybeans, rice or barley, and then the koji, inoculated with spores also called koji, is mixed with (more) soybeans, chickpeas or some other legume to make miso, or used to make something else like amazake or some types of vegetable ferments.
But the Momofuku cookbook gives a brief mention to popcorn miso, made of unpopped kernels, and tasting of popcorn. It also mentions pistachio miso. So there are a lot of possibilities when you’re making your own koji, and I am determined to try some of them, despite my relatively poor history of being able to make miso. I have made sweet (i.e. 3 month) miso before, and just began a barley koji sweet miso a week or two ago. That’s manageable. But I really want to try 1-3+ year salty misos, and so far I have always managed to freeze or bake these while moving or living off-grid or whatever. But hope springs eternal, so I am trying again, using spores intended for red rice sendai (6-12 month) miso. At least by making my own koji, just buying spores instead of the inoculated rice, I end up with a lot more koji for a lot less cost.
So anyway, above are pictures of the koji in process. To make the koji you need to steam the popcorn (pre-soaked for 24 hours) until soft. I used bamboo steamers lined with cheesecloth, and had to do the steaming in two batches. Then when it had cooled down a little, I sprinkled the spores mixed with flour onto the koji, wrapped it all up in towels to insulate it, and stuck a thermometre in so I could monitor the temperature. So far both the barley and the popcorn koji have been good at keeping within the right temperature range without me having to do much. After 24 hours, I moved it to a pan and made furrows in the pan. After a day of inoculating, it gives off more heat, so while it still needs to be incubated a bit, it also would be easy to overdo it, hence spreading it out more and adding furrows. You can see in the second picture in the tray how much more white mold there was in the morning, compared to the night before, so it’s growing well.
Lately I have been branching out in how I use miso too. Travis introduced me to miso in savoury oatmeal, which I love for breakfast (sometimes with seaweed). I have also started adding sweet shiro miso to the one-ingredient frozen banana “ice cream” (that I always seem to bring up) for a salty-caramel-y flavour.