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Fall Fest 2010: A Winter Squash Mini Tutorial

Posted Sep 28 2010 4:03pm

The easiest way to have a frugal but healthy kitchen is to buy produce in season. Right now that means squash. And lots of it. All different kinds, too: the basics like acorn, butternut, hubbard and spaghetti, with more unique kinds available now like kabocha, delicata and turban, to name just a few. And, of course, we can't forget about pumpkin, my own personal favorite!

Since I've only started cooking with winter squash in the last few years, I'm still learning a lot about it, and I only have personal experience with the most common ones: acorn, butternut, pumpkin and spaghetti. I am pretty sure, though, that what holds true for those squash varieties holds true for all, except in some respects the spaghetti squash which has a much different texture than the others and is generally cooked in different ways.

First of all, why exactly is it called winter squash? "Winter" separates it from the "summer" squash like zucchini and yellow squash which are very different in many ways
-Winter squash has a thick skin, while summer squash has a thin, easily peeled skin.
-Winter squash keeps up to a month or possibly more in a dark dry place at room temperature, while summer squash must be stored in the refrigerator or freezer and eaten within a week or two at the most.
-Summer squash has a high water content that yields a very different textured fruit.
-Winter squash has thick seeds that must be roasted before consuming, while summer squash has thin seeds like a cucumber that can be eaten raw. Winter squash seeds are almost always eaten separately from the squash itself, while summer squash seeds are eaten together with the fruit.
-Summer squash grows throughout the summer, while the natural growing season of winter squash starts in late summer and goes through the fall and the harvested fruit can last quite a while when properly stored (hence the old-timers considered it a winter fruit).

Most importantly, what can you do with it?! The short answer is: Lots! Squash has a mild flavor that is great on its own, but also makes it versatile enough to be featured in everything from appetizers to desserts. It can be baked, boiled, roasted or steamed, and can be served in halves, chunks or mashed. Squash puree is used in a variety of recipes, including baked goods (pumpkin pie, anyone?) and classic favorites like risotto. Because of the sturdy skin, squash halves can be filled with any number of delicious fillings and baked for a very elegant presentation. Truly, there is no reason not to include squash in your weekly menu throughout the season, because its varied presentation means you and your family will never get bored of it.

Think you don't like squash? Think again! I did not grow up eating squash, and as such I am still acquiring a taste for it. I've realized that squash can be hidden in quite a variety of foods without significantly affecting their taste or texture. The best way to do that is to cook and puree the flesh and add it to baked goods, casseroles and side dishes. Never tried that before? Let this year's crop of squash be your introduction! Follow these step-by-step instructions for preparing your squash to hide in a variety of foods that won't offend your taste buds.

1. Wash the squash and pierce through the skin in several places with a sharp knife. Microwave for 2-3 minutes. This does not cook the squash (although you could cook it entirely in the microwave, which I do when I'm really in a hurry), but it softens the skin to make it easier to cut. Sharp knives and I have a love-hate relationship and I have a little phobia about them that makes me cautious. Feel free to skip this step if you don't mind hacking through the tough skin of the squash with a super sharp knife.

2. Holding the hot squash in one hand with a towel or pot holder, remove the stem and cut the squash in half. 

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