Recently, the general public, especially younger people in the cities, have begun to embrace strong flavors previously thought of as icky, like bitterness, fermentation, funk, fat and umami, which are now all prized flavors. This is good. But Americans, as always, are unable to do anything in moderation, and, hypnotized by the constant racket of food television, food blogs, restaurant blogs, and have-you-tried-this, insist that if strong flavors can be good, then even stronger flavors must be better. This is why we can’t have a hoppy IPA; we have to have the hoppiest quadruple-IPA science can concoct. We can’t have a normal bowl of chili; we have to bump up the savory flavor with umami-heavy ingredients like marmite, soy sauce, and anchovies, and who cares if those flavors work together? And we can’t use spinach anymore, because there are greens that are stronger and more bitter, and thus better, like kale. Eating spinach is something your parents would do. Eating kale—stringy, bitter, aggressive kale—is the mark of an adventurous, flavor-forward connoisseur.
My first unpaid media internship was in the summer of 2010. Like most college students, previous semesters spent whiffing on applications made landing one feel like a reward, regardless of pay—I’d move to New York and even have the chance to write (mostly) professionally. The “unpaid” part always loomed, but my friends and I made it work through varying levels of cost-cutting and couch-crashing. Besides, we were all believers in that age-old internship axiom: As stressful as working for free was, we’d be getting the experience and exposure needed to compete for real, paid jobs. The problem with “climbing up to minimum wage” as an employment strategy never really crossed our minds.
Unpaid internships, long a due-paying rite of passage for college students, became entrenched as a stopgap solution for employers with spots to fill but without the money to properly fill them. This was (and is) very bad. In cases where full-time work was carried out under the auspices of internship programs, it was also illegal. And, as the ways that many unpaid internships violated labor laws became common knowledge, former interns began taking their employers to court. The earliest lawsuits, filed around late 2011, challenged the argument that interns weren’t technically employees and didn’t qualify for protections like minimum wage because they were getting educational or professional benefits by being in the office. After a federal judge ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures was illegally using unpaid interns on the movie Black Swan in June 2013—the first major ruling against unpaid internships—a wave of lawsuits followed against media companies like Conde Nast, NBC Universal and Gawker Media. (A similar case against the Hearst Corporation, filed in 2012, is currently under appeal.)
The media industry adapted swiftly: Slate began paying its interns in December 2013; Conde Nast shuttered its intern program entirely; and the Times ended its sub-minimum wage internships in March. But other high-profile employers have turned to a new way to temporarily employ students or recent grads: fellowships.
Trends and memes may be on the side of fall and winter squash—I dare you to find a single vendor without some variety of pumpkin foodstuff between September and December—but I rue the transition from light, delicate, and fresh summer squash, like zucchini, to heavy, sugary, and starchy winter squash, like acorn, pumpkin, delicata, butternut, and, of course, pumpkin. The most common way to eat winter squash, the one I see at potlucks and on restaurant menus alike, is actually the worst: a simple PC&R (peel, cube, and roast).
This is a very good way to cook almost any vegetable, but a bad way to cook winter squash. Summer squashes are typically eaten young, while the seeds and skins are still soft and edible—even raw—while winter squashes have been allowed to grow to a mature stage, so they are hardier; their flesh is dense and sweet and their skin tough and sometimes warty. This makes them very resistant to winter temperatures, but their texture makes people think they can be treated like potatoes or sweet potatoes, with a PC&R. Nope.
I have tried every possible way to PC&R winter squash: I have par-boiled; I have sous-vided; I have covered in aluminum foil; I have experimented with every possible temperature and timing and size and shape and amount of oil. My final conclusion is that there is no good way to PC&R a butternut squash or pumpkin. The pleasure of a roasted starchy vegetable is in the crispy exterior and pillowy interior, but this does not happen to winter squash—the only thing it does well in the oven is turn to mush.
This is all not to say that there are no good ways to eat winter squashes. That very tendency to turn to mush can be embraced. The squash is mush. Let it be mush. This means transforming it into soups, sauces, and purees, where the winter squash’s mushiness and heaviness become creaminess and richness. Here’s how to cook them properly.