The fall season is here, the beautiful hillsides, the crisp air and of course football season. It’s a time when I also enjoy spending a little more time in the kitchen because of the short daylight after work. As I passed by a display of winter squash last week, I overheard the comment “I’d really like to know how to cook this squash?” and after our conversation I’m guessing this may be something that many of us may wonder. I have tried several kinds, but I’m sure there are many additional methods others may share, so ask at work or with friends and find out what their favorite method might be. Here’s a little basic information to get started.
Winter squash tend to include darker varieties such as pumpkin, spaghetti squash, acorn squash and butternut squash. Each type exhibits differences in shape, color, size and flavor but all have shells that are hard and are more challenging to cut and/or peel – this allows winter squash to have a longer storage life, sometimes 2-4 months in a cool place (50-55 degrees). Don’t store them close to apples, pears or other ripening fruit as it will shorten their storage life. Squash provides us with a good source of vitamin A, C and potassium.
Choose a well- shaped squash with hard tough skin, with no soft spots or punctures on it. The gourd should be heavy for its size. Here are some guides for the most common varieties:
- Acorn squash Ì¶ a smaller acorn shaped squash with dark green or orange skin and light orange-yellow flesh that is ideal for baking.
- Butternut squash Ì¶ Pear shaped squash with a pale orange or tan skin and darker orange flesh. It has a smaller seed pocket at the bottom of the pear shape.
- Hubbard squash Ì¶ a green squash noted for its bumpy thick skin and orange-yellow flesh. These squash generally grow quite large. They mash well and have a smooth texture.
- Spaghetti squash Ì¶ Yellow-skinned squash with lighter yellow, fibrous, translucent, stringy flesh. Mild flavored and can be served like pasta.
- Winter squash can be baked, boiled or steamed and most of them may be interchanged in recipes. Make sure the squash is rinsed under running water before it is peeled or cut. The quickest and healthiest way to prepare winter squash is to steam it easily in the microwave.
Microwaving: Wash smaller whole squash. Pierce several times with a knife. For larger squash, cut in half, remove the seeds and strings. Place cut side down in a microwave-safe baking dish. Pour ¼ inch of water into the bottom of the dish. Pierce squash several times with a knife. Microwave on high power for 6 to 7 minutes, then let stand for 5 minutes. (Microwave cooking times are provided as a guide. Cooking times vary due to differences in microwaves and size of squash. Check for desired doneness.)
If you decide to bake your squash, it doesn’t need to be peeled. Remove the ends and cut the squash in half, lengthwise down the middle. Pierce the meat of the squash a few times and bake in a pan until tender. Rub squash with a little olive oil and bake uncovered—gives a roasted flavor and browned, caramelized sections.
If you want a sweet side dish, try one or more of the following: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice or ginger (anything with pumpkin or apple spices work well) Drizzle with honey or maple syrup or add a little butter and brown sugar
If you prefer a more savory side dish try one of these: olive oil and chili powder, garlic, grated cheese, or herbs - oregano, parsley or sage.
Don’t forget to save the seeds that you scoop out of your winter squash! Seeds are a healthy and delicious snack food and can be prepared the same way as pumpkin seeds. Squash seeds need to be separated from the pulp, washed and dried on a paper towel before baking. Coat them lightly with olive oil and season to taste. Lay them in a single layer on an oiled cookie sheet and bake at 300 degrees, for about 15 to 20 minutes or until tender.