One of the best, and simplest, things to cook during this time of year, this cold and blowy time of late Fall and Winter, is a winter squash. These are certainly some of the most enjoyable vegetables (fruits, technically) to shop for, as their eye-popping colors, shapes and textures never fail to entertain, from acorn to spaghetti (a prize to the reader who can come up with a winter squash further on in the alphabet). Orange, yellow, green, striped, warty, curved, the varieties seem endless, and the big bushels full of them are one of the signature sights of Fall.
I've recently discovered the amazing hubbard squash, sometimes called the blue hubbard squash after it's wonderful sky-blue color. This is the big bruiser of the squash family, other than the mutant show-pumpkins. I've been told that if you buy a whole one the best way to break it open is to throw it from your roof. Luckily, there's a local grocer who cuts them up into nice wedges for less adventurous consumption. The flesh inside is a nice light orange, and the seeds are large and plump. I've also found the hubbard to be one of the tastiest of the winter squash, far outstripping the acorn (which I find a little bland) and easily contending with the butternut and the baking pumpkins.
My favorite way to cook one is to carve out the orange flesh away from the seeds and the skin and chop it into medium-sized chunks, an inch or two all around. I toss these with olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped fresh sage and throw them into a cast-iron skillet. Put it into a 400 degree oven and oven-roast for a half-hour to forty-five minutes, turning with a spatula every fifteen minutes or so. They should get soft and nicely browned on a couple sides. That's it, you can now eat them.
Oh, and the wonderful side benefit, my favorite salty snack in the whole wide world, spicy squash seeds. Separate the seeds (unhulled of course -the fiber's good for you, and crunchy) from the flesh and inner glop - though I recommend NOT cleaning them completely - a little of that stringy orange squash innards toasts up very well with the seeds, adding a little sweetness. Toss the seeds with olive oil, salt, pepper, and ground dried cayenne, to taste (in my case lots) and spread out on a baking sheet. These can go right in the oven with the squash, and will come out sooner. Shake them around every few minutes until they are toasted brown on both sides and sizzling. I dearly love these. If I could find fresh, raw, untoasted, unhulled pumpkin seeds to buy by the pound I would do so. As much as I love winter squash, I just can't eat the enormous quanitites I would have to in order to fully satisfy my craving for the toasted seeds.
Leftover squash, by the way, is great in soups (and great just reheated) but my favorite use for it is in a risotto. The soft texture and caramelized flavor perfectly suits the creamy complexity of a good risotto.