Sep 032013

Although summer is barely over the nutritious and versatile Winter squash is a summer-growing annual vegetable that is in season and at its peak from August through November.  It differs from summer squash in that it is harvested and eaten in the mature fruit stage, when the seeds within have matured fully and the skin has hardened into a tough rind. At this stage, most varieties of this nutritious fruit can be stored for use during the winter.

I used to be intimidated by these funny looking and oddly shaped gourds, until I discovered that they are nutrition powerhouses.  And, they are ridiculously easy to prepare.

Most of the crop is harvested in September or October (Northern Hemisphere), before heavy frosts hit the planting area, but can be stored through-out the winter.  After they’re cook they freeze will in cubes and can be enjoyed in many dishes year round.

What is the Nutrition in Winter Squash?

Winter squash is a low-calorie, good source of complex vegetable carbohydrates and dietary fiber, with almost no fat.

Winter squash are an excellent source of vitamin A, a great source of vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber and manganese, and a good source of folate, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B1 (thiamin), copper, tryptophan, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B3 (niacin) and vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid).  It is also a source of iron and beta carotene. Usually, the darker the skin is, the higher the beta carotene content.

What are the types of Winter Squash?

There are literally hundreds of species, and sub-species of winter squash, but here are some of the most popular.

Acorn Squash —as you’d expect this squash is shaped like a very large acorn.  It has a ribbed green skin that turns to orange around the stem end.  It can be prepared simply by cutting in half, removing the seeds, brushing with olive oil, and baking until the flesh is soft.  You can eat it straight from the shell.  It can also be steamed, roasted, or braised.

Butternut Squash—the butternut is a smooth skinned squash with a sweet, nutty taste similar to that of a pumpkin.  It has yellow skin and orange fleshy pulp. When ripe, it turns increasingly deep orange, and becomes sweeter and richer.

Of all the winter squashes, butternut squash is the easiest to work with; it has thin skin and can be easily peeled with a vegetable peeler.  An easy preparation is by simply cutting off the top, halving, scooping the seeds out and then cut again in to quarters.  Place the wedges cut side up in a large glass baking dish.  Combine orange juice and maple syrup and drizzle over the top.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg, cover with foil and roast for about 45 minutes.  Done!

Because of its versatility it’s often used in creamy soups, risotto dishes, and makes a great filling for lasagna.

Delicata Squash–Delicata squash is a small, oblong, light creamy beige colored squash striped in bright yellow, dark green, and orange. The peel is exceptionally thin so it does not store as long or as easily as other winter squash. Check Delicatas for bruises, cuts, and soft spots before buying. The flesh is sweet, nutty, and a bit drier than other squash with a distinct corn-like flavor. It is particularly delicious roasted with butter or stuffed and baked.

They are very easy to grow and have relatively short vines for a winter squash, making them a great choice for backyard vegetable gardens

Spaghetti Squash (also called vegetable spaghetti, or noodle squash)

A small, watermelon-shaped variety, ranges in size from 2 to 5 pounds or more. It has a golden-yellow, oval rind and a mild, nutlike flavor.

The yellowiest Spaghetti squash will be the ripest and best to eat. Those that are nearly white are not very ripe. Larger spaghetti squash are more flavorful than smaller ones.

When cooked, the flesh separates in strands that resemble spaghetti pasta.

To prepare spaghetti squash, cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Then bake or boil it until tender. Once cooked, use a fork to rake out the “spaghetti-like” stringy flesh (all the way to the rind), and serve.

Spaghetti Squash can be stored at room temperature for about a month. After cutting, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 2 days. Spaghetti squash also freezes well.

Microwave Squash Instructions

Poke squash all over with a fork. Microwave it at full power (100%) 5 to 10 minutes, depending on size of squash. Fork should easily pierce peel and flesh. If it doesn’t, microwave squash in 1-minute intervals until it does. Let sit until cool enough to handle, cut in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds, and proceed with recipe. Good for all varieties

How to store Winter Squash:

  • Place whole winter squash on top of thick pads of newspapers in a cool, dry, well-ventilated location, preferably between 45 and 50 degrees F. Check on a regular basis for rot and use within three to six months depending on variety of squash.
  • Refrigerate tightly wrapped cut pieces of winter squash, such as banana, and use within 5 days.
  • Once a squash is cooked (by steaming or baking), the flesh of the squash can be stored frozen until needed

Let’s not forget about the pumpkin, highly nutritious, and of course you can use the seeds.  Check out our article on the health and nutrition benefits of pumpkin and enjoy the delicious spicy pumpkin bread with dark chocolate recipe.


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