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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