Move over pumpkin! Your cousin, squash, makes better pies!
Growing up, it was more common in our household to have squash rather than pumpkin pie. My ancestors always claimed squash makes a better, more tasty pie and I have to agree. Squash gives a richer pie with a depth of flavour that I don’t find characteristic of pumpkin.
There are several different kinds of squash that can be used for pie making but my preference is the tall vase-or bell-shaped butternut squash. Butternut squash is considered a variety of winter squash. Though harvested in autumn, butternut squash is generally available in supermarkets through the winter months because of the squash’s long “keeping” quality. I’m guessing it is their availability through the winter months that has earned them the term “winter” squash since they certainly wouldn’t be harvested in the winter in our cold and frosty northeastern climate! With its mildly nutty flavour, butternut squash has a natural sweetness to it. The pulp of the butternut squash is bright orange in color and, while it loses that color when made in to a pie, it turns to a lovely caramel color.
My grandmother always cooked her squash in a pot with some water on the stovetop. However, squash already has a high moisture content and adding more water to the mix can make it difficult to get the cooked squash sufficiently drained that you don’t end up with a soupy texture pie. My preference is to, instead, roast the squash as it reduces the moisture level and I find it also gives the squash an even deeper, richer flavour.
For my squash pie recipe (found at the end of this posting), 2 cups of puréed squash is needed. I used a butternut squash weighing 3 pounds which yielded 4 cups of purée, enough for 2 – 10″ pies. So, if all you want is one pie, try to find a squash that weighs 1½ to 1¾ pounds.
To roast the squash, I simply began by cutting the squash in half, starting at the top narrow end, slicing all the way through to the bottom.
With a spoon, remove the seeds.
With a soft brush, apply a thin layer of olive oil to both the flesh and skin sides of the squash.
Place squash, flesh side down, on a greased, foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Bake in preheated 425°F oven for about a half hour. Remove the squash from the oven and, with a large lifter, carefully flip the pieces over, applying another light brushing of olive oil to the flesh side. Return the squash to the oven for about another half hour or so, until the flesh of the squash is very soft. Remove from oven.
As soon as the squash has just cooled enough to handle, scoop the flesh from the skin of the squash and put it in the bowl of a food processor.
Process until the squash is puréed smooth.
Then, transfer the purée to a cheesecloth-lined colander fitted over a large bowl or pot and leave it to drip for about an hour or so. The goal is to remove as much remaining liquid as possible. I find it helps to stir the mixture two to three times and to press down the mixture with the back of a large spoon to extract the liquid.
To make one pie, transfer 2 cups of the purée to a medium-sized bowl.
Add the slightly-beaten eggs.
Next, add the sugars, salt, spices, and evaporated milk.
Mix the ingredients well – I use a hand mixer.
Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust. Although not necessary, I sometimes (but not always) pre-bake the crust for about 10 minutes to set it. If you do this, be sure to use pie weights to ensure the crust does not bubble up, creating air pockets underneath.
I find it useful to place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet for easy transport into the oven. The filling is very liquid at this point and it is very easy to spill it or slosh it up over the sides of the crust edges. In fact, sometimes, I only partially fill the pie, then set it on the oven rack and finish filling it there.
It helps to start baking the pie at 375°F for the first 15 minutes to give it a quick set then lower the temperature to 350°F and bake for another 1¼ hours longer or until a knife, or a toothpick, inserted into the center of the pie comes out clean.
The pie should be thoroughly cooled and allowed to set before cutting.
1½ – 1¾ lb butternut squash
Pastry for deep 10-inch single crust pie
For the pie filling:
2 cups squash purée
2 extra large eggs, slightly beaten
⅔ cup brown sugar, lightly packed
⅓ cup white sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
¼ tsp cloves
¼ tsp mace
⅛ tsp nutmeg
1⅔ cup evaporated milk
To roast the squash:
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Line large rimmed baking sheet with tin foil. Spray with cooking oil.
Cut the squash in half from top to bottom. Remove and discard seeds. Lightly brush olive oil on both sides of squash. Place squash, flesh side down, on baking sheet. Roast for about 30 minutes then remove from oven and carefully flip the squash halves over. Apply a light brushing of olive oil on the flesh side of the squash. Return squash to oven and continue roasting for another 20-30 minutes or until squash is very soft.
To prepare the squash purée:
Line a large colander with cheesecloth. Set aside.
Remove squash from oven. As soon as the squash has just cooled enough to handle, scoop the flesh from the squash and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Purée the squash until it is very smooth.
Transfer the purée to the cheesecloth-lined colander. Let sit for about an hour to allow any excess water to drain from the purée. From time to time, stir the purée and, with a large spoon, press out the moisture from the purée.
To make the pie filling:
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Transfer purée to a medium-sized bowl and add the eggs, sugars, salt, spices, and milk. With a mixer (either a hand or stand mixer), mix ingredients thoroughly. Pour mixture into prepared pie shell. Place on rimmed baking sheet.
Bake pie in lower third of oven at 375°F for 15 minutes then lower temperature to 350°F and continue baking pie for about 1¼ hours longer or until knife or toothpick inserted in center of pie comes out clean.
Let pie cool completely before cutting.
Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Yield: 8-10 servings
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