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Chowder breathes reassurance. It steams consolation. — Clementine Paddleford

Utopia?

laSenda Ecovilla

 

eco villa rick and agua culture 2LaSenda Eco Villa founder Rick Welland and his tiers of aguaponically grown vegetables
(LaSenda is part of the Global Eco Village Network)

As a longtime local food nut, the idea of living on a small farm in a stunning valley, dining year round on organic greens and tilapia, farmed from a pond out back, sounds mighty appealing.

In this perfect world, I imagine everyone getting along wonderfully, chipping in to get the work done, then finishing each day off with a spectacular shared meal.  All this takes place on small, energy independent compound that’s radically affordable to maintain and manages to give something back to the local community to boot. Dreaming, eh?

I’m not the only one.

Last month, I staggered off the plane from chilly New England to join a group visiting laSenda Ecovilla, a tiny intentional community in its infancy, about 20 minutes outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Food

We started with food, my favorite. The agricultural system in laSenda Ecovilla runs on a closed cycle. The small tilapia pond produces fertilizer for the vegetables, which are grown using aquaponics . (Unlike hydroponics, where chemicals are fed into the water, here, no chemicals are needed). And better yet, in this arid climate, 98% less water is used then in conventional agriculture.

This balanced system uses both gravity and a solar powered pump to circulate the water, flowing from the nutrient-rich fish pond to aquaponic tiered vegetable trays. From there, the clean, aerated water is gravity-fed back to the fish and around again to the vegetables. There’s been plenty of trial and error, but the system has been working so well that plants grow ten times more rapidly.

The riverside location and climate appeal, especially after a winter in New England —  a fledgeling papaya tree sits in an area protected from the cold, succulent aloe vera is grown, then juiced as a digestive, and there’s the promise of year-round growing.

lasenda summerWest wing and fish pond at laSenda during the rainy season. (for more pictures, visit the website here)

Living

The 6 attached living units are each self contained, stunning in their simplicity, fronted by south facing floor to ceiling glass, opening to a columned covered walkway looking over vista you see here. The 870 square foot apartments have two 2 rooms, one with a bed that rolls out, a bathroom and small kitchen. A large kitchen and sitting area are in a cheerful communal room. Members are asked to help out and share the bounty.

The solar building is outfitted to be energy independent, using stones that heat well in the cool weather and cool down in the heat, Mexican bamboo ceilings. The river-side location is ideal for good water, the holy grail here. The main pond, one of many is fed from the river, flowing underground through gravel, which helps clean it. Drinking water, always an issue here, is gravity fed from high in the canyon t their well below. Hence, the water is tested regularly and is clean enough to drink.

Living costs are low. Electricity is covered by the sun, fresh food grown on premises, as well as fish. A shared car goes to the neighboring city of Celaya every few weeks for wholesale tropical fruit. As of now they are selling surplus vegetables at the organic market in San Miguel each week to subsidize necessities. The land will be part of the corporation, so that members are buying a 1/6 share of the complex, including their living unit.

With its idyllic country setting, almost a micro-climate, only 20 minutes out of San Miguel Allende, fresh organic foods and economical lifestyle — $50,000 for an apartment and shared use of the land — this could be a fine match for the right people. But it isn’t for everyone. Although the apartments are self-contained, members make a commitment to communal living. And they have to buy into the eco-principles of the village, including a diet that fish, but excludes meat and diary. (And a no smoking or drugs policy.) Those interested are asked to rent for 6 months to make sure everyone’s happy before committing, a smart idea. With 2 units filled, there are 4 to go…..

la senda rainy seasonThe lower fish poinds next tothe Rio Laj. 

The next move?

Community: In the future,  laSenda Ecovilla will be running organic gardening training and art classes in the local native villages.

Interested in learning about eco villages?

The Senda is part of a Global Eco Village Network.  Founder Rick and Barbara Welland recommend reading The New Earth, and following the eco village movement, which is growing rapidly.

Comment

I’ve been interested in intentional communities every since reading the picture book with Barbar the Elephant in idyllic Celesteville, a shared village where everyone flourished, even minorities.  (Oh those elephants, working their chosen trade half a day, playing the rest.)

And then later Utopia, of course, and there was the 70′s, a bit of communal living and all that. Sure, as an adult, I understand the perils of shared living, but it still attracts me, because there’s got to be a better way….

What about you?

eco villa view from apt 2View from apartments during the dry season.  Two weeks after I shot this it was green!

 

My Ugly Friend

Breaking out of Your Vegetable Rut with Celery Root

celery roots and potatoesCelery Root and Potatoes from Farm at Miller’s Crossing

Fair warning: I’m partial to celery root, also called celeriac. Maybe that’s because I didn’t grow up eating it. So its appealing but oppositional flavors — at once sophisticated and earthy —  still surprise me.

And like all favorite foods, its pleasure is magnified by the memories it evokes. For me, that’s tasting my first celeriac salad in a French café in small town, as I was a young woman, first on my own. (I had no idea what it was, but I was hooked.)

Romantic roots aside, it’s likely you weren’t weaned celery root either. And its unwelcoming look hardly beckons. But knife away its knobby skin and take a whiff.  It has a celery-like aroma, but with a rustic edge that isn’t starchy, like a potato, but brighter with a hint of the exotic. Its flesh adds punch on its own or blends happily as a team member with other vegetables.

Eaten raw or cooked, celery root sings.

Try it raw, grated into that classic salad I savored long ago, which has become a seasonal staple in our house, always a side with winter sandwiches. Just peel one pound of celery root and toss it very lightly 2 or more tablespoons of well-seasoned mayonnaise.  (This salad loves apples too.)

Here’s a simple version. Season the mayo with 2 or more tablespoons red wine or cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard and a clove of minced garlic, adding capers or cornishons and parsley if you want more punch.

Alternatives? If the flavor’s too strong for you — it isn’t for me — plunge grated celery root into boiling water for a few seconds. Drain it, then plunge it into ice water, before draining again and dressing it. Or, if you’re not a fan of mayo, use a simple oil and vinegar or lemon dressing instead.

Cooked celery root plays with other vegetables too, seriously jazzing vegetable combos. Cube and peeled it, toss in olive oil, then roast it with seasonal roots, like carrots, parsnips and onions. (You can also put the vegetables under roasting meat or poultry, so it can absorb the drippings.) Or pair it with its best friend, the potato, in the recipes below.

The wallflower of winter root vegetables, celery root gets stuck in the corner while all the rest boogie around America’s kitchens. Sure, it’s a homely root with a warty skin, but that belies its fabulous flavor. So break out of your winter vegetable rut and include celery root in your repertoire.

Some recipes links from this blog:

Smashed Potatoes and Celery Root with Chive 
Potato-Celery Root Ravioli
Winter Root Soup 

 

potato celery root ravioli wiht fork

 

Fun Food Clips from my Facebook Page

eco villa me and pond

Greetings from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I’m savoring a smorgasbord of local foods, including freshly picked greens, which I miss so much during our New England winters. This picture looks like a river in the Northeast, but it’s near just outside of town here, where I visited an Eco Villa. (More about that later.)

Facebook?

For those of you who aren’t on  my Locavore Way facebook page, where I post more frequently, I’ve selected some links from last month’s posts. (And I admire you for staying out of the Fray:) All links in orange…..

Winter Bouquet

How to make a bouquet using local winter plants and trees.

Pigs ‘r Us

Sustainable farm guru Joel Salatin raises pigs in the forest, where sure beats those giant factory farms we’ve been hearing about. A primer on how to do it here!  On the other side, a debate over hog farms vs scenery here. Although I don’t eat red meat all that much, pork is by far my favorite. In truth, I eat both sustainably raised and commodity pork, because all cuts aren’t available in the former, and I can’t always afford the former. (I know, I know.) But I always feel a bit odd when I savor the latter. Who knows what I”m eating? Do you eat pork?

Talk on Biochar

While we don’t usually discuss the science of farming on this blog, But, I met Lerner at a new year’s day party here in San Miguel, Mexico, and was intrigued by his Ted Talk on Biochar. Here it is. And this webpage on the topic helps clarify: Link here.

Fermented Cranberry Sauce?

This looks like something worthwhile to try when I get home, using regional cranberries. Let me know if you cook it up. The recipe’s here.    

Homemade Sriracha anyone?

Are you as addicted as the rest of the US? Now that I’m in chili land AKA Mexico for a month, it’s time for fool around. And in the summer, I’m gonna try this up north. Here’s a recipe.

 

Talk in Mexico, Cooking Classes in Northampton, MA— all coming soon!

 

corn 3Smoking a chicken with corn for a class at my old home in West Stockbridge.
(Picture by Berkshire Food Journal)

Talk this Thursday!
January 8th, in San Miguel, Mexico, a talk on The Local Food Movement. For more, click here.

Two Morrocan Cooking Classes
In Northampton, Massachusetts on January 28 and 29 (Click here to be put on the waiting list!)

Gift for Spring
Italian Spring Celebration cooking class on April 23rd in Northampton, Massachusetts. Click here.

Terroir (and pasta with Swiss chard)

zanahoria carrotsThe carrots here in Mexico are always distinctive — bright, a touch earthy, with a flavor that screams ORANGE. Longtime farmer David Inglis says an African friend told him that they are called “spears of light,” so perhaps the light is what does it for them here…..

 

It’s really true that we taste the place, any place, in its local food: its climate, water, soil….its terroir.

Here in Mexico, each time I put heat to food, I have little control over its ultimate flavor, because I don’t have a deep understanding of the taste of each ingredient, which is grounded in this particular place.

These place-based flavors are satisfying when they work wonderfully, as in the Mexican carrots, which taste so astoundingly carroty — so orange, unlike all but the very best carrots in The States.

But they can be frustrating too. Even the simple Italian-style pasta dish that I cooked last night, part of my workday repertoire at home  — here with local Swiss chard, Mexican olive oil and garlic  — tasted Mexican, which was hardly my intention!

Is this how cooking feels to those who don’t cook much? The end result always a surprise?

And then, to further complicate matters,  there’s the difference, here and anywhere, between ingredients grown and produced in different ways. The fresh greens picked from organic farm above vs the Mexican commodity greens that I bought at the local market. You get the drill.

Cooking here is always both frustrating and fascinating.  I’m a beginner all over again.

Easiest pasta with Swiss Chard (or any greens)

Ingredients
4 or so cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup olive oil, as you like it
One or two bunches of scallions, white and green, sliced
One pound short pasta, your favorite shape
One giant bunch of cooking greens, your favorite (I used chard)
Hot chili pepper flakes
Grated cheese if you like it

Procedure
1-Wash and dry the greens (It’s OK if there is still a little water clinging to them.). Pile the leaves up, roll them and thinly slice. Set aside. (Note:If there are tough stems, cut them off before rolling the greens.)

2-Bring at least 4 quarts very well salted water to a rolling boil.

3-Meanwhile, saute the garlic in the olive oil with the scallion whites (reserving their greens) over low heat until fragrant but not brown. Set aside off the heat.

4-When the pasta is al dente, cooked but still firm, plunge in the chard, spinach or any other greens along with the scallion greens. Swirl with a wooden spoon and immediately drain.

5-Immediately toss with the garlic oil, salt and hot chili pepper flakes to taste. Serve in bowls, sprinkled with cheese.

Variations:
1-Cook minced jalapeno with the garlic, omit the chili pepper flakes.
2-Use shells and raisins and garbanzos to the mix. (Just add to the colander)
3-Instead of plunging the greens into water, saute them in the garlic oil, just until wilted.
4-If you use spinach, add a some freshly grated nutmeg.

 

Pozole à la Margarita

Happy New Year to all….

Cooking down here Mexico….

honey 4Margarita Granado checking on the hominy in Honey’s welcoming pale yellow kitchen.

Guest post
This comes from Honey Sharp, via Margarita Granado, who graciously showed us how to prepare her grandmother’s terrific version of Pozole, a traditional hominy soup. (For more, scan down to green.)

The Recipe
A Mexican soup for a cold day or just to warm your tummy and your palette. Its basic ingredients: hominy, poblano peppers, and chicken stock. Spices such as cumin and cilantro jazz it up and garnishes are a must. There are many versions — such as a pork base with red peppers — but I love this bright and subtle green one. Serves 8 people

Ingredients
3-5 chicken pieces, white or dark, with bone*
2 cups hominy**
1 large sweet onion, quartered
3 garlic cloves, sliced (or more if you like)
2 large poblano peppers
A generous handful of cilantro and celery leaves
A dash of cumin and oregano
Salt

Garnish
About 1 cup of diced radishes
About 1 cup of sweet onion, diced, or sliced scallion, whites and greens
About 1 cup of cilantro leaves, or 1/2 cup coarsely chopped
8 lime wedges

*Chicken parts may be replaced with a flavorful chicken stock
**Here the hominy came in a plastic bag. In the use try to pick it up dried. Last choice, canned.

1) Simmer the chicken and hominy, onion and garlic in 3 quarts of water for about 1 hour, or until the chicken is very tender. Remove the onion and chicken. Discard the onion and chicken bones. Shred the chicken and reserve for the soup. (If the hominy isn’t quite cooked, simmer until slightly al dente.)

2) While the stock is cooking, roast the poblanos directly on a gas flame, turning occasionally, or in a broiler. When blackened, cover with a kitchen cloth to steam. Slice in half lengthwise and remove the stem, seeds and burned skin. Slice. (See picture below.)

3) Add poblanos, cilantro and celery leaves, cumin, oregano to a blender with just enough water for smooth blending.

4) Add to the cooked stock. Cook another 20 minutes. The soup is ready when the hominy is soft but not mushy. (Think of pasta al dente.)

5) Before serving, add salt to taste and the shredded chicken. Ladle into bowls and let diners help themselves to the garnishes.

Note: This can be made with a flavorful vegetarian stock and cubes of tofu to replace the chicken.

A Few Comments on Honey’s Guest Post
Honey Sharp — http://honeysharp.com — is avid gardener, landscape designer and writer, who divides her time between Berkshires, MA and San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, where I’m staying for the month, as usual.

Currently, as we’re both in San Miguel,  she invited me over to make a version Pozole with her housekeeper, Margarita, a fine cook. .It’s unusually rainy and cold here, but happily the  local ingredients morphed into a back-to-the-womb kind of soup that my Jewish grandmother would have made if she’s been Mexican.

Years ago, I’d developed a chunky pork version of pozole for the Joy of Cooking, but this is even better. Perhaps that’s because the flavors are local — fresh from our trip to the farmers’ market. Also, this hominy was tastier than the canned variety I’d used. (In the US, try to pick up dried hominy, often available at Mexican markets.)

Of course, all cultures have savor comforting soups, and this one really warmed the soul as well as my wet feet. Feel free to concoct your own version with whatever is on hand. I plan to add local vegetables to mine once I get home, and will try a tomato-based version next summer, maybe mixing hominy with fresh corn and adding a touch of smoked paprika for mystery.

Let me know what you come up with!

Honey 2

Roasting the poblanos direction on the gas flame

Honey 10

Otherwise elegant Honey looking kinda goofy:)

Fun from Facebook

thansgiving group '13Merry Christmas! I’m in Mexico for the month, but I wanted to share some goodies from my facebook page, where I post more frequently. (The picture? From left to right, my  husband, Tommy, my daughter, Emma, me, my sister, Ellie, her daughter, my niece, Sadie Rose, my mom, Vera, my uncle’s wife, Renee, my brother in law, Mark. My middle sister, Joanna, is taking the picture.)

Two cooking classes in Northampton
Join me! Morrocan and Italian Spring Celebration. The former is filled, but they’re filling a second session.

 

Greens with Faro, Currents and Golden Garlic
Saute greens — I used broccoli rabe with a bit of kale, but anything goes —in olive oil and a nice amount of slightly browned garlic. (Don’t burn it!)  Toss with cooked faro and currants to taste. Sweet and bitter. Lovely.

 

Don’t you just love home fries?
Here’s my millionth version home fries, a big love of mine.

 

Saute bacon, remove and chop, leaving fat in the pan. Add a small dice of onions, local Mt. Florida turnips (or any good rutabaga) and potatoes. Saute in a HOT pan — love cast iron— until very browned.

 

I served under Jennifer Trainer Thompson‘s fresh eggs. You can fried, or poached ‘em. Or use the best fresh eggs you can find….(Jennifer gave me  her fresh her terrific egg book as well as her eggs after I interviewed her.)

 

Last of my CSA share…
From Red Fire Farm —Leeks (leek potato soup with kale?), Spinach (tossed into the boiling water at before draining egg noodles, then again with garlic simmered in butter with freshly grated nutmeg?), Kale (that kale salad I posted earlier sounds good), Parsnips (grated into veggie fritters? blended into soup?), Carrots and Turnips (a quick pickle together?), Black Radish (ideas?) Shallots (in everything, as ever),  Adirondack Red & Blue Potatoes (roasted with shallots, cumin and chilies), and imperfect Brussels Sprouts (we’ll see, maybe roasted with some left over radicchio and sprinkled with currents plumped in something fun?).  What are you cooking?

 

Roasted everything in the fridge
I have a giant bowl from my old catering days, big enough to toss everything in my fridge, literally.
So, when it was time to empty my fridge for our trip to Mexico, I cut up everything edible, including the rest of my CSA share, tossed it with spices and roasted it on three large trays. The apples were sweet, the vegetables spicy — the dish a hot and sweet ying yang delight!

Use what you have on hand. I combined good-sized chunks of  cabbage —who knew they’d turn out so sweet? — beets, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, sweet potatoes, potatoes, brussels sprouts cut off the stalk with thick slices of sweet onion and apple halves. Toss with olive oil, minced garlic, smoked paprika, cumin seed, salt and cracked pepper, garlic and onion powder. (I was generous with the spices.) Spread in a single layer on parchment paper and roast until dark. (I did remove the sprouts a little earlier.) Now I have lots of Red Fire Farm roasted veggies to munch or as is or to toss on a baguette with sun-dried tomato pesto or goat cheese. But right now I’m roasting some chicken over the last tray.

 

Bizarre Food Story?
Mom Gives Kids Homemade Lunch, School Forces Them to Eat Ritz Crackers

home friedsAnother version with Jennifer Trainer Thompson’s fabulously fresh eggs….

 

 

Rich 'n Easy Black and White Truffles

Thinking of a locavore treat that you can make in the winter?

(Full and festive winter locavore meal below)


These truffles were so popular last year that I’m blogging them again. They’re extraordinary in their simplicity — fresh local cream mingles with the best chocolate you can find. I used Belgium Callabuat chocolate with butter and cream from Highlawn Farm, where the vista is classic New England and Jersey cows bat their long lashes. I couldn’t find local butter, but the vanilla is aged in wooden barrels at Baldwin’s right here in West Stockbridge. And so, local meets global in this last gasp of holiday decadence. Makes about 40 or so small square truffles, but I doubled ‘em

The Truffles
7 ounces top-notch semi sweet chocolate , chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter, sliced
1/3 cup cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
A generous pinch cinnamon

The Coating
Confectioner’s sugar
Cocoa powder

1-Melt the truffle ingredients together in a double boiler or microwave, then whisk to combine thoroughly. Pour into a lightly oiled 8 by 8 pan and chill well.

2-Cut in half or into quarters. Use spatula to remove the squares of chocolate from the pan. (If you have any trouble removing them, run a very hot kitchen cloth over the bottom of the pan and a knife along the edges.)  Cut each square into approximately even squares. (Your choice on size, but keep ‘em small.) If the chocolate gets melty while you are working with it, return it to the fridge until firmer.

3-Add half the squares to a bowl with confectioner’s sugar and half to a bowl with cocoa powder. Toss to coat. (They coat best when they’re getting a touch soft, so wait if you need to.) Serve in truffle cups, stacked like tiles or any which way.(For later use, store in fridge. They also freeze great.)

Fun variations: Coat with any kind of toasted chopped nuts; shredded coconut (for an upscale mounds bar); a pinch of cinnamon or instant espresso added to the cocoa powder. Try anything; you are only limited by your imagination.

chocolate truffles

Locavore Winter Meal? It isn’t easy to pull off an economical locavore meal when the ground is rock hard and covered with snow. But this year I’ve done well, thanks to the holiday markets and end-of-the-season CSA sales that seem be thriving everywhere. (There are now 900 winter season markets.) Fear not, recipes that aren’t highlighted are coming during the winter!

The Menu —

Maine Shrimp Ceviche with Berry Farm Arugula
Winter CSA Potato and Celery Root Ravioli with Parsley Pesto
Wilted Baby Greenhouse Spinach with Farm at Miller’s Crossing Roasted Beets, Shiitakes, Monteray Chevre and Balsamic Syrup
Ginger Bread with Highlawn Whipped Cream and Fresh Windy Hill Apple Sauce

Looking for a virtual local food vacation on a snowy day? Check out Caroline Alexander’s site, Berkshire Food Journal, where she chronicles regional farmers with audio interviews and accompanying photos.

 

Locavore Mulligatawny Soup


Coming up? My winter Moroccan cooking class in Northampton, Register here!

Last year, my oldest pal, Judy, came up from the city for a perfect 24 hours, complete with book talk and a giggle over the personal ads in London Review of Books, which are witty as hell.

We even improvised a curried vegetable soup. Judy wanted to post it. But, I insisted it wasn’t a real recipe, just a throw-together that tasted delish. She countered that its easygoing nature — simmer vegetables, then blend and curry them — made it an ideal blog post. She won.
Serves about 6

Large butternut squash
About 3 leeks, whites only, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, optional
2 baking potatoes, pealed and cut into 1/8th
1 can of unsweetened coconut milk
About 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
About 1/4-1/2 cup spices*
Salt to taste
A scant handful of chopped cilantro, optional
Hot sauce

1-Prepare the butternut. You can roast it whole or peel it and cook it raw. (Roasting is favorite approach, because It concentrates the flavor and peels effortlessly.)  To roast and puree: Roast butternut squash in a 375 degree oven until very soft, about 1 hour. Split lengthwise, scrape out and discard the seeds and fiber.Remove the peel or scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Reserve. To peel and cook raw: Remove the stem. Peal the butternut, split it in half lengthwise. Scrape out the fiber and seeds and discard. Cut each butternut half into 8ths. (To save and roast the seeds, see below**).

2-Sauté the leeks and garlic in the oil over low heat, in a medium to large pot, stirring occasionally. If you are using it, drop in the butter. Add the potatoes and the raw or roasted butternut. Barely cover with broth. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are very soft.

3-Puree the soup in a food processor until smooth and add back to the pot. (Or use an immersion blender.) Stir in almost all of the can of coconut milk with enough broth to make a thick soup.

4-Dry toast the spices in a skillet over medium heat, stirring continuously, just until fragrant but not browned, less than a minute.  (*You can use curry powder, in which case 1/4 cup is plenty, but I prefer to combine plenty of cumin, coriander and turmeric,  along with a touch of fenugreek, mustard, fennel and ginger. Pound seeds in a mortar and pestle or use ground spices.) Stir in the toasted spices to taste, more or less, depending if you like your  soup well-spiced or subtle. (You can freeze any remaining spices for future use.) Salt to taste.

5-Heat the soup gently without boiling it for 15-20 minutes to marry the flavors, stirring in extra broth or water if it thickens too much. Serve piping hot. Garnish with the cilantro, a splash of hot sauce and the last drizzle of coconut milk from the can.  (I threw on a few toasted seeds**, but Judy and I decided they are better eaten separately.)

Variations

As written, this soup works well. But, feel free to use onions or shallots instead of leeks along with the recipe’s potatoes, spices, broth and coconut milk. Then deviate from there, ditching the butternut and throwing in any seasonal vegetables that are around, such as parsnips, carrots, turnips or celery root. Don’t worry too much about quantity, because you can always add more or less broth to reach the desired texture —  that of a thick soup. Just have fun and celebrate the season’s crops.

**Toasted squash seeds: Remove the fiber from the seeds, but don’t worry about getting it all. Rinse and dry the seeds, then toss with just enough oil to barely coat them. Lay out in a single layer on parchment paper on a baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes or until they are very crisp. Salt to taste.

Where? I got my butternut from Taft Farms in Great Barrington and the leeks at nameless farm stand, but they’re readily available almost everywhere right now, as are potatoes.

 

Winter’s Gold

A love affair with butternut squash….

dan butternut squash soupI came late to winter squash. But like all new converts, I’m a zealot, especially about butternut, winter’s gold — endlessly versatile, packed with good flavor and nutrition. In my household, it’s a seasonal staple for soups, stews and more.

Butternut is widely available right now, from fall harvest until early spring. It keeps well at cool temperatures and, unlike most vegetables, actually improves over time as its moisture evaporates concentrating its sugars.

I’m dazzled by butternut’s culinary possibilities. And by following simple techniques and flavoring suggestions, you’re ready to cook it up numerous ways with or without recipes.

I especially enjoy roasting it whole to avoid peeling and cutting, then scooping out its aromatic orange flesh to cook into a variety of dishes, including Tropical Butternut Bisque. Just roast it whole in a 375 degree oven until it can easily be pierced through with a knife, about 1 hour, then slit lengthwise. Scoop out the fibrous center and seeds and remove the skin, leaving the flesh to puree it in a food processor or to mash. It’s fabulous simply mashed like potatoes, with butter and a touch of ginger, cayenne or cinnamon, or as a vegetarian pate, blended with plenty of butter and a touch of fresh sage.

Pureed butternut is also the locavore’s substitute for canned pumpkin puree in baked dishes. Adapt any pumpkin recipe using the puree. My two favorites are Spiced Butternut -Cranberry Squares and Butternut Pie with Ginger Snap Crust. (Butternut may vary in texture, so if your puree is not thick, just drain a bit in a colander before using, or use the necks, which yield a thicker puree.)

Cubed butternut is just as versatile as roasted puree. To cube: peel and half or quarter the squash, preferably with a large shape knife, and scrape out the seeds and fibrous innards using a spoon. Voila, you’re ready to dice the butternut into long strips and then across them into cubes.

I like cheering up chili or stew with bright orange butternut cubes. Just drop them in to simmer until soft but not mushy. Or stir little cubes into a half cooked risotto, then finish it up. (I like regional shiitake mushrooms and leeks in this too.)

Or roast cubes by tossing them lightly with olive oil with a touch of cayenne pepper and minced garlic, adding herbs or onion if you like. (Or chili, cumin and cayenne pepper.) Roast them in a single layer, either solo or with winter vegetables, at 400 degrees until cooked through.

And there’s sweetened squash— an American classic. While writing The Massachusetts Farm to School Cookbook, I found that kids had no trouble eating their vegetables in a sweet butternut recipe.  I just tossed local butternut cubes in melted butter, maple syrup and pumpkin pie spices to coat, then roasted them until browned. What a hit!

For a nutty snack or garnish you don’t want to forget butternut’s seeds. After scraping them out, make sure to remove any squash fiber from the seeds. Rinse and dry them, then roast in a skillet, dry or with a touch of oil, stirring occasionally until crunchy, then add salt to taste.

After feasting on summer and fall bounty, Mother Nature sent us a bonus  — butternut — something to look forward to.