In Season: Winter Squash

by in In Season, November 10, 2009

butternut squash
As crisper weather sets in, nothing beats warm, freshly roasted squash. There’s a bounty of winter squash available at your local market now. Don’t let that thick skin scare you away. Here are our favorite ways to cook ‘em up, including soup.

What, Where & When?
Part of the gourd family, winter squash was first cultivated in American around 5,000 B.C. and in South America more than 2,000 years ago. Squash is typically divided into two categories: summer and winter. Summer squash have thin, edible skins and soft seeds. The tender flesh has a high water content, mild flavor and cooks up pretty quickly. Winter squash have hard, thick skins and hard seeds. Their skin is smooth and comes in a various colors — orange, yellow, green or tan; because the rind is thicker than summer varieties, they require longer cooking. Some varieties are available throughout the year, but the best are from early fall through the winter.

    Here’s a rundown of a few popular varieties:

  • “Acorn” is round with a pointed end that resembles an acorn (hence the name). It has dark green skin with yellow flesh that’s flavorful and nutty.
  • “Buttercup” is small and round with dark green skin and deep orange flesh that’s mild and sweet. The skin is so tough that sometimes you need a hammer to break it open.
  • “Butternut” (my fave!) has a long neck and roundish base. The skin is tan with bright orange flesh that’s much sweeter than buttercup or acorn squash.
  • “Hubbard” is very large and typically oval and lumpy. The skin is a dullish blue or gray with a moist yellow flesh that’s less sweet than some of the other varieties.
  • “Spaghetti” is large and oval with bright yellow skin. The pale yellow or white stringy flesh has a mild flavor that, when cooked, you can shred with a fork to resemble spaghetti.

Nutrition Facts
One cup of cooked winter squash contains 76 calories and is cholesterol-free. It’s an excellent source of vitamin A — in fact, a serving has more than twice your suggested daily amount. It also contains the antioxidant vitamin C, energy-boosting vitamins B6 and folate and some heart-healthy potassium.

What To Do With Squash
In late September, I picked two enormous and gorgeous butternut squash. I made one into a scrumptious soup full of large chunks of squash and potatoes; the other one I diced, cooked and stored in my freezer for later. Every year, my family starts off our Thanksgiving meal with a creamy butternut squash soup. We also stuff acorn squash with a rice-based stuffing, which looks beautiful on the holiday table. You can also add diced pieces of roasted squash to salads, pasta dishes and stews. Mix butternut squash with some rice and you’ve got yourself a mouthwatering risotto.

Shopping Tip: Choose squash that are heavy, hard and have deep-colored rinds free of mold or blemishes. Thanks to its tough exterior skin, you can store winter squash for up to a month in a cool, dry place. Once peeled and diced, squash keep in the fridge for up to five days in a sealed container or bag.

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Comments (7)

  1. I'm a college student and I love squash because it's so easy to keep around and cook when I want it. I just heat up half an acorn squash in my microwave and stuff it with some pumpkin seeds and it's a great side

  2. TTMama says:

    i throw a ton of butternut squash in the crockpot with sweet potatoes and broth… let it cook all day and then puree it when its nice and soft. yummm best soup ever!

  3. linda says:

    Winter squash is a warm-season vegetable that can be grown in most of the country. It differs from summer squash in that it is harvested and eaten.

  4. julo says:

    Words cannot describe how much I love winter squash. What can't you do with it? I had to buy furniture to store all the squash I've been buying. I like to use butternut squash to make warm chickpea salad, or cook it with brown rice and cashews. I just made bolognese sauce and served it over spaghetti squash. The sweet flavor and slight crunch from the squash went perfectly! And I plan on making a quinoa stuffed acorn squash or two next week. The possibilities are endless!

  5. I have never been a fan of squash until now. There is so much you can do with this vegetable and each kind has such a distinct taste. Aside from pumpkins, I cannot think of another more appropriate seasonal food. Great post!

  6. Loress Dunn says:

    Re: storage. Oh, honey you can store them for months and months! I had a Butternut squash on my kitchen island that I picked up a year ago November (2008) — I made a yummy soup with it in September (2009). I watched it all that time for any spots and evidence of moisture loss & etc., but it came through like a trooper. I will, in future, try to use the winter squash within the first month or so.

  7. Darice says:

    My friend Glorita made a delicious tossed green salad with roasted buttternut squash. We also added some roasted red bell pepper and onion and served with a vinegarette dressing. FABULOUS

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