When the menu calls for spiced custard pie, squash the impulse to reach for canned pumpkin. Instead, consider a tart filled with something a bit more posh: acorn, banana, buttercup, butternut, Hubbard, sweetmeat, Tahitian or turban winter squash. All of these have a mellow flavor and fine-grained texture that makes a delicate custard filling.
Prepare winter squash the same way you'd cook pumpkin: Cut it into halves or quarters, depending on the size of the squash, and bake it cut-side down in a 350-degree oven until tender (from 40 minutes to 1 hour). Or you can steam it until soft (about 20 minutes). Put the cooked squash into a blender or food processor and whiz it smooth.
A stint in a sieve drains off excess liquid, concentrating the flavor of the puree and thickening it -- the best insurance against a custard filling that weeps.
In the recipe that follows, creamy squash filling laced with cognac fills a tender tart crust. Use your own favorite recipe to make a 10-inch crust. For a garnish, pipe sweetened whipped cream around the edges of the custard and decorate with pecan or walnut halves.
Cole Publishing Group
Makes one 10-inch tart; serves 10
3/4 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup milk
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
4 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons cognac
2 1/4 cups well-drained winter squash puree
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare pastry, roll out and use it to line a 10-by-2-inch tart tin with removable bottom. Line tart pastry with foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake 10 minutes; carefully remove beans or weights and foil. Protect rim of crust with foil strips and bake until golden (about 5 minutes).
Reduce heat to 350 degrees. To prepare custard, in large bowl, combine whipping cream, milk, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Stir in eggs, cognac and squash.
Pour mixture into partially baked tart shell. Bake until custard is set (about 1 hour). Leave on a wire rack until cool. Remove sides of tart tin before serving and cutting.