When the leaves start to fall and temperatures drop, it’s the perfect time for serving healthy squash seasoned with delicious spices to warm the heart and soul.
Squash isn’t just about a weekend trip to the pumpkin patch for that perfect jack-o-lantern. This fruit, packed with nutrition and a combination of both sweet and savory flavors, will surprise you when you bake, steam, roast or even turn it into a favorite seasonal dessert, pumpkin pie! And that’s just one of the delicious varieties – there are many interesting types of squash to choose from besides the popular pumpkin.
Discover delicious winter squash
Winter squash differs from summer squash because it is harvested after the fruit has fully matured and the skin has hardened into a tough rind. At this stage, it can be stored for use during the winter months.
Buying winter squash
Select squash that’s heavier than it looks. There’s no standard size, so you’ll have to eyeball a squash to estimate the amount you need. Choose fruit that has at least part of its stem attached, and make sure the stem appears hard, dull, solid, and dry (a missing stem means there might be mold or bacterial growth inside). Avoid squash that’s at all discolored, moist, or cracked.
Some squash varieties:
Acorn. Popular for its small size, one acorn squash can be cut in half to make two heaping servings. Choose one with a deep, dark green ring. Keep in mind that the hard rind can be difficult to cut.
Butternut. Popular for its ease of use, butternut squash is small enough to serve a family of four without leftovers. It’s known for its sweet, moist and nutty flavor. The rind is thin enough to peel. Choose one with a dull, tan rind.
Banana. This one is so large that grocery stores often sell it pre-cut into smaller chunks. The tasty variety is best known for its beautiful, golden-colored flesh.
Buttercup. A favorite winter variety, buttercup squash is sweet and creamy with an orange flesh. It tends to be dry, so take that into account when using it in recipes.
Delicata. One of the tastier winter squashes with a creamy pulp that tastes like sweet potatoes.
Turban. This squash has a colorful rind that makes a wonderful centerpiece. You can even hollow it out and use it as a decorative soup tureen!
Spaghetti. After cooking it, you can spoon out the flesh of spaghetti squash and pull out long yellow strands resembling spaghetti. These “noodles” can serve as a low-calorie substitute for pasta.
Pumpkin. Use the smaller “sugar pumpkin” for pies (the larger “jack-o-lantern” style is too watery). Canned pumpkin puree is easy to use in a recipe and makes a good substitute for fresh fruit.
Winter squash is a good source of complex carbs (which give you energy) and fiber (which fills you up). It’s also loaded with potassium, niacin to maintain healthy skin, iron and beta carotene, which studies suggest aids in preventing both cancer and heart disease. The darker the skin, the higher the beta carotene content. One cup of cooked winter squash contains just 80 calories, is high in vitamins A and C, and a good source of vitamins B, K and folate.
Storing winter squash
Store squash in a cool, dry place (50° to 60° F), where it will last for several months. Once sliced, wrap the pieces in plastic wrap and refrigerate up to five days. Freeze cooked squash for up to one year.
Try stuffing squash halves with a mixture of nuts, raisins, apples and/or onions spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, honey, brown sugar, maple syrup or even fruit juice. Bake upright in an oven at 400° F until tender.
Use squash for holiday decorating! Carved, hollowed out, or left intact, squash can inspire many decorative ideas for in and around the home. Pumpkins, of course, make great Halloween décor, and all types of squash make festive – and inexpensive – tabletop centerpieces for Thanksgiving.