The following information, recipes and photography were provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder. Learn more about Carla and discover her recipes at Ravenouskitchen.com.
The days are getting shorter and cooler and winter squash has begun to pop up in the grocery store. Yes, folks, the tell-tale signs of fall are here. And even though we are sad to see summer pass us by, we’re ready to change up our menus with fall fare like hearty soups and stews, salads and sides of sweet and tender winter squash. Pumpkins may get all the glory on Halloween, but there are plenty of colorful, flavorful and nutrient-packed winter squash varieties to brighten up cold weather meals.
What are Winter Squash?
Winter squash are some of the most delicious and versatile ingredients of the season. Unlike summer squash, these beauties are harvested in late summer and early fall when they are hard and ripe. This means that most varieties can be stored and enjoyed for weeks, if not months. Sweeter and with a firmer texture than summer squash, winter squash is adaptable to a wide spectrum of spices and flavors making them true crowd pleasers in soups, casseroles, risottos and even desserts.
Types of Winter Squash
Chances are that acorn, butternut, spaghetti, delicata and sugar pumpkins are the most visible winter squash at local markets. Exotic hybrids such as knobby gray hubbard, red kuri, kabocha and turban squash are fun to seek out and most squash are easily adapted to recipes. Regardless of the type, select squash that are blemish and bruise-free, with an intact stem and hefty weight.
Nutritional Value of Winter Squash
Naturally low in fat and calories, winter squash is a good source of complex vegetable carbohydrates and dietary fiber. It’s an excellent source of Vitamins A, B6, B1, B3, C and E as well as omega-3 fatty acids, iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese and beta-carotene. Usually, the darker the skin, the higher the beta-carotene content.
How to Store Winter Squash
The ideal storage for winter squash is one that is not as cold as a refrigerator, but not as warm as a heated house. A cool pantry or cabinet or an unheated garage or basement that stays in the 50’s is best. When stored properly, winter squash can be kept for months.
How to Prepare Winter Squash
Virtually any winter squash can be substituted for another in recipes, with the exception of spaghetti squash. The flavor of squash is mild and sweet and is easily incorporated into seasonal dishes with its orange and yellow flesh.
The hardest part of working with winter squash is their tough outer skin, which in most cases needs to be peeled away, but you can often get around that chore by halving and roasting the squash and then cutting away the tough outer covering once the flesh is tender. The best method I know is to cut away the stem and then cut the squash in half using a large knife. I sometimes use a mallet to hammer the blade through. Use a large spoon to scrape the seeds and membrane out of the cavity, poke it with a knife in a few places and then roast, boil, steam or microwave the squash until tender. One pound of cooked squash yields about two cups of pieces.
How to Cook Winter Squash
Winter squash can be cooked many ways. My favorite is to halve the squash and roast it cut-side-down in a 375°F oven until tender, but I also often peel it and then cut it up into chunks and boil it in stews and soups, or sauté it in curries and stir fries.
Spaghetti squash is unique with its strands that resemble spaghetti, therefore the name. To cook spaghetti squash, halve it and either steam or bake, cut-side-down until tender. Scrape the cooked insides from the shell with a fork and toss with butter or even top with tomato sauce for a gluten free pasta-esque dish.
Winter Squash Recipes
For your fall eating pleasure, I’ve included a few squash recipes to get you started.
The first is butternut squash-based with two versions. A long slim neck and bell-shaped bottom give the butternut squash its distinctive shape. The tan skin obscures bright orange flesh that is sweeter than most squash, so this squash is perfect for savory and sweet adaptations. Roasted and halved squash is sliced and topped with goat cheese, pecans and dried cranberries for a festive but simple take on this fall classic. The second version adds caramelized onions and a custard to the basic recipe taking it from simple to spectacular. This side is delicious with grilled pork tenderloin or chicken and is an easy recipe to make ahead, so it’s perfect for family or for entertaining.
The second recipe uses acorn squash. Small in size, acorn squash typically weighs between one and two pounds with orange-yellow flesh and thick, dark green skin. It has a mild, nutty flavor and halved, acorn squash makes the perfect vegetable cup to stuff with tasty grain-based fillings. Sautéed mushrooms, onion and garlic are tossed with frozen quinoa, brown rice or farro and topped with salty sunflower seeds. Using the frozen grains makes this meal faster and easier to prepare, but you can always cook your own grains or use lentils or even wild rice. I love how the acorn squash is its own little bowl and I found this recipe filling enough to be a vegetarian main course.
Last but not least is a recipe featuring buttercup squash. Buttercup squash is squat and round with a dark green rind that has green-gray striations. It has dense, orange flesh that is on the sweet side. It’s similar in shape and size to kabocha squash and when thinly sliced and roasted, it makes a great fall salad with kale, radicchio, walnuts and sun-dried cherries. Slicing the kale into ribbons and tossing it with lemon juice removes some of the toughness, leaving it pleasantly chewy while the cherries steeped in honey and vinegar add tartness and fruit. I like to serve this salad while the squash is still warm and once again, if served with good bread and butter, I think this salad is filling enough to be a main course.
Let’s get with the program and embrace fall with winter squash recipes that celebrate the season, but still keep it simple. With winter squash on the menu simple and delicious are one and the same.