Winter squashes are the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables. Despite their interesting shapes and colors, they tend to get overlooked for the more charismatic vegetables, like asparagus or broccoli. Yet, winter squash has a lot to offer both in taste and health benefits.
Types of Squash
Winter squash include a wide variety of vegetables, each with its own particular taste and best use. Other than the common acorn or butternut squashes, types include carnival, buttercup and spaghetti squash. Who couldn’t help be curious about a squash named fairytale pumpkin?
Winter squashes, by their name, are harvested in fall when cooler weather settles in. Unlike zucchini or yellow squash, it is a slow process from seed to table. For the cook, they offer the advantage of being able to be stored in a cool cupboard or cabinet rather than taking up valuable real estate in the refrigerator. What’s more, they will keep longer.
Winter squash provide a myriad of health benefits due to their carotene content. They contain high amounts of other yummy nutrients, like vitamins B1, B6 and niacin. The nutritional value of quash may provide additional health benefits, including protection against heart disease .
Looking at them from a culinary perspective, they are colorful for making an attractive side dish. You have the added bonus that winter squash are relatively inexpensive for what you get. There is certainly a lot going for these under-appreciated vegetables.
It is, perhaps, a cruel twist of fate that the tastier squash are the greatest pains to prepare. Their thick rind serves them well during the growth process; it just makes getting to the good stuff all that harder. To prepare squash, you can cut them in half and cook them; this is a good choice for smaller varieties, like acorn. Cutting them can provide a challenge.
To help prevent knife mishaps, place the squash on a towel to steady it before you begin slicing. As always, you want to slice away from yourself. Once halved, you can then scoop out the seeds using a spoon. You needn’t worry about cooking all of it right away. According to StillTasty.com, winter squash can last up to four days in the fridge; just be sure and cover it tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
Unfortunately, at least from what I’ve observed, the only pre-cut variety I find at my grocery store is butternut squash. That’s probably because it is the easiest to peel. I’m not knocking butternut squash; it’s just that the other varieties have so much to offer that the prep is truly worth the effort.
Cooking with Squash
You can cook squash in the oven, though, it does take awhile. Plan on at least 45 minutes for an acorn squash and more if you are using a larger variety. You can also microwave squash. I like to do this for spaghetti squash. Simply, cut in half or poke several holes in a while squash. Place in baking dish, cut side down and cover with plastic wrap. Give it at least 10 minutes, but check it periodically until it is soft.
You can interchange the orange flesh varieties in recipes. It’s a good way to get to know another type. Spaghetti squash has to be my favorite. The name gives you all the info you need. Once cooked, you can scoop out the strands of squash using a fork. It has a delightful sweet almost lemon-vanilla type of taste. You can use it to substitute for pasta or just eat it on its own with a little butter and seasoning.
If you haven’t tried it, winter squash is a pleasant surprise that you certainly deserve and will appreciate. It is an affordable and nutritious way to take advantage of seasonal cooking.