Meet the winter gourd family. Due to their mildly sweet flavour and fine texture that showcases in fall, they show up in many harvest recipes. Fall is when their rinds have hardened, and they keep well under the bed all winter. With inedible thick skins and hollow inner cavities containing hard seeds, winter squash involves very dense flesh requiring a longer cooking time than summer squash. Another comparison is that winter squash are drier and have a sweeter taste than summer squash. Ralph’s favourite winter squash are acorn, banana, butternut, and spaghetti.
Acorn squash can be small and heart-shaped, the perfect size for a quaint dinner serving. Named due to its resemblance to the shape of an acorn and is usually 6 to 10 inches in length. Their smooth skin may be adorned with gradating shades of dark green, tan, white, or gold, and often a combination of all three. The more common green variety have a dark green, pleated outer skin with a deep yellow to pale orange flesh that is tender, moist, and fibrous with a fairly large centre filled with seeds. Regardless of appearance, all baked varieties taste sweet and nutty.
Cooking TipThe orange and golden varieties are sweeter and more flavourful, so they can easily substitute for pumpkin and sweet potatoes in most recipes.
Health Benefits Although acorn squash contains a lot less beta-carotene than other winter squashes, it is a good source of calcium and vitamin C.
Of Interest Began from wild squash found in Guatemala and Mexico. This was over 10,000 years when the flesh was lacking and bitter and was grown for its seeds. Eventually Christopher Columbus brought back the more developed sweeter-tasting fleshed squash to Europe. Like other Native American foods, squash was introduced throughout the world by Portuguese and Spanish explorers. Today, it is believed that China, Japan, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, and Argentina are the largest commercial producers.
This large, thick-skinned cylindrical squash averages a whopping 20 inches in length and weighs approximately 12 pounds. It is so large that it is usually sold in chunks instead of whole. The lovely creamy textured orange flesh provides a delightful fruity and buttery taste.
How to Enjoy Although both baking and steaming are great ways to prepare this tasty squash, steaming results in a slightly sweeter, yet mild flavour.
Buttercup Squash received it’s name from it’s cap-like bottom. It is somewhat sweet and mild slightly dry. It typically weighs 5 to 7 pounds and grows a trademark ring around the flower end, opposite the stem end. Dark green with narrow grey stripes, the thin outer skin contains a rich, sweet-flavoured, somewhat nutty tasting orange flesh that is fine-grained, creamy textured and dense in consistency.
Butternut Squash is creamy, very sweet, moist, nutty, and scrumptious. Its long, pear-shape is coloured with a smooth tan skin that surrounds a golden-orange, slightly fibrous flesh. The rounded end contains a cavity of seeds, while the upper portion is all meat. It is one of the most popular winter squashes and may be referred to as the pumpkin squash.
How to Enjoy Its soft skin is easy to peel raw to create a sauté of chopped pieces.
It’s hard to believe until you’ve tried, but the flesh become long translucent spaghetti-like strands shen cooked.
How to Choose Look for smooth skins, avoiding soft or dark spots. The larger the squash, the thicker the strands.
Storage Place in a cool dry place where it may keep for a month or more.
How to Enjoy Spaghetti squash may be baked, boiled or steamed. Quite mild in flavour, but easily enhanced with other ingredients and sauces to create a delicious vegetable dish.
HOW TO CHOOSE
Meet the winter gourd family. They show up in many harvest recipes since fall is when their rinds have hardened, and they keep well under the bed all winter. With inedible thick skins and hollow inner cavities containing hard seeds, winter squash involves very dense flesh requiring a longer cooking time than summer squash. Another comparison is that winter squash are drier and have a sweeter taste than summer squash. Ralph’s favourite winter squash are acorn, banana, butternut, and spaghetti.
Pre-Cut Select a piece with darker flesh, which is evidence of being nicely ripened.
Most varieties of winter squash can be stored for several months if kept bruise-free in a cool, dry, dark location or at room temperature for one week. It is best to store the squash with part of the stem still attached to help hold the moisture in.
Cut open This is the only time they should be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days.
Cooked squash can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days or it can be placed in the freezer for longer storage.
- Exposure to temperatures below 50°F will created damage
- Excessive heat will begin to convert their starches too quickly
- Storing in plastic bags or wrap traps moisture and encourages spoilage and rot.
- Wash the exterior of the squash under cool running water until all the dirt has been removed.
- Spread newspaper over your kitchen counter to ease clean up.
- Using a cleaver or large knife, cut the squash in half (lengthwise or crosswise) and remove the seeds and stringy fibres from the cavity with a spoon. Winter squash can be difficult to cut and it is sometimes easier to bake the squash first for 25 or 30 minutes or microwave on high for 5 or 10 minutes and then let it stand for a few minutes before trying to cut it in half.
- Once the squash is cut in half and seeds removed, it can be quartered, cubed, or sliced if required. Otherwise, cook squash as directed.
- If the squash is going to be cooked whole, be sure to pierce the skin in several places to allow steam to escape and prevent squash from exploding.
Cutting Banana Squash
Leave it to Ralph’s! For your convenience, we pre-cut banana squash. You can always come back for more…
- Using a large spoon or scraping tool, remove the stringy fibers and seeds from the cavity of the squash.
- Clean seeds and fibers before cooking. You’ll observe quite a large cavity at this point.
Cutting an Acorn Squash
Step 1 Insert a sharp, sturdy chef’s knife into the acorn squash and tap with a kitchen mallet. After the first cut, re-position the mallet to the base of the knife blade for more tapping to occur. This procedure will continue until the squash falls into two separate pieces.
Step 2 With a spoon or scraper remove the strings and seeds.
Cutting Butternut Squash – to serve whole
A butternut squash can be prepared in varying ways. Regardless of how it will be served, the first step is to remove the stem with a sharp kitchen knife.
Step 1 If you plan to present the squash whole, cut closer to the stem to lessen the amount of flesh removed from the squash.
Step 2 Slice the butternut squash directly down the center.
Step 3 Remove the strings and seeds with a spoon or scraping tool.
Cutting Butternut Squash – cubed, mashed, or puréed
Step 1: Cut into two separate pieces before slicing in half. Set aside the upper section of the squash.
Step 2: Now cut the two sections in half…
Step 3: and then each half in the same manner.
Step 4: Remove the stringy fibers and seeds from the cavity of the lower section. You may cut the pieces smaller if desired.
Peeling Winter Squash
Probably due to its thick, tough skin, very few recipes call for winter squash to be peeled before cubing. If called for, however, begin by partially baking in the microwave.
Step 1: To prepare for microwaving, pierce the skin of the squash with the tip of a sharp knife in several places, allowing steam to escape and prevent an unwelcome explosion. Place the whole squash in a microwave safe dish and microwave for 6 to 8 minutes. Let stand for approximately 10 minutes.
Step 2: Then begin peeling by cutting the skin around the entire squash until completely removed.
Step 3: Cut in half and scrape out all the seeds and stringy fibers from the center of the squash. Cut into the desired size pieces and cook until done.
Alternative Peeling Method The squash can also be cut in half, seeds removed and cut into smaller pieces, before peeling the skin off.
- Simply cooked with salt and butter added.
- Cubes can be added to soups, stews, curries, casseroles, and other dishes.
- Used in pies, muffins, cakes, puddings, and other desserts.
- Top puréed cooked winter squash with cinnamon and maple syrup
- Scrumptious when topped with brown sugar, honey, and butter, providing a sweet and somewhat nutty flavour
- Steam cubes of winter squash and adorn with olive oil, tamari, ginger and pumpkin seeds.
- Top “strings” of spaghetti squash with pasta sauce
- Stuffed Squash Smaller individual squash are commonly served whole and may be stuffed with ingredients such as sausage, bread, vegetables, and seasonings, which have been baked once and then again inside the squash. Another stuffing consists of onions, celery, greens, garlic, and eggplant.
- Add cranberries for the remaining five minutes. Remove and immediately toss this squash/cranberry mixture with cream cheese and maple syrup. The cheese melts around the squash, melding with the syrup and cranberries to make a very tasty sauce. Puree the leftovers and use them for ice cream or pie.
- A savory roast is to add red onions and garlic along with the squash. then simply toss the mixture with balsamic vinegar before serving. Any leftovers convert quickly and easily to soup.
Complimentary Seasonings Besides salt and butter, squash goes well with cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and allspice.
- When baking, add butter and brown sugar to the cavity for a sweeter taste. In addition, the longer the squash is baked the more water that will evaporate from the squash, making the squash sweeter in taste.
- Reduce moisture prior to cooking, remove some of the moisture by sprinkling the raw flesh with salt, place cavity side down on a couple of layers of paper towels. Within 20 to 30 minutes, the paper towel will absorb the moisture drawn out by the salt. Rinse with cold water before cooking.
- To remove fibres, whip cooked squash with an electric mixer to catch the fibres.
- When mashed or puréed, leave the skin on. The flesh can be removed by scooping the meat of the squash out with a spoon after it is cook.
- The skin on the squash will be easier to remove after the squash is cooked.
Several methods can be used to cook winter squash. Some of the more common methods are shown below.
- Cut squash in half, quarters, slices, or pieces and season as desired.
- Place squash on steamer rack in a saucepan and cook over boiling water.
- Cooking time may vary from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the freshness and type of squash and the size pieces being steamed.
- Cut squash in half and remove seeds and stringy fibers.
- Place squash halves, cut side down on a baking sheet. Pierce the skin several times.
- Bake the squash in an oven preheated to 350°F for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- Test by piercing a fork in the thickest part of the squash – it should be shriveled and tender. When done, scrape the cooked squash away from the skin and place in a bowl.
- To mash, remove flesh from the skin and add approximately 2 to 3 tablespoons of butter to the flesh – season to taste. Mash the squash with a fork until the butter is well blended.
- To serve in wedges, leave cooked flesh on the skin. Cut into wedges and brush with melted butter. Then sprinkled with salt, pepper, and brown sugar.
Because of the dense, hard flesh that winter squash has, it is best to partial cook it before grilling. Follow the preparation instructions above for partial cooking and then peeling the squash.
Winter squash, 1 squash (raw, acorn)
Total Fat: 0.43g
*Excellent source of: Magnesium (138mg), Potassium (1,495mg), Vitamin C (47mg), and Vitamin A (1,454 IU)
*Good source of: Calcium (142mg)
*Foods that are an “excellent source” of a particular nutrient provide 20% or more of the Recommended Daily Value. Foods that are a “good source” of a particular nutrient provide between 10 and 20% of the Recommended Daily Value.