It is coming to an end – my farmer’s market closes down its vegetable stalls and local produce around this time, but not before winter squash displays a show of color in the stands. Winter squash didn’t enter into my cooking repertoire until this year – the closest I got to them were the seeds I gouged out from pumpkins I put outside the front door, a leftover from Halloween days when A. and N. were at home. I was intimidated by the thick-skinned squash because I feared I would lose a finger trying to slice through it (I have a distinct memory of a near miss cutting through butternut squash). This year their colors and varieties tempted me enough to brave another stab at these nutritionally rich (fiber, Vitamin A and C) vegetables.
With cutesy names like Acorn, Ambercup, Butternut, Delicata, Spaghetti, and Sweet Dumpling, the winter squash are picked in the fall and stored until ready to be eaten, unlike the summer squash that are ripened on the vine. Their rinds, unlike summer squash, cannot be eaten, but their hollow cavities reveal orange, yellow, and red flesh that favor all types of cooking – baking, roasting, sautéing, pureeing, and slow cooking.
How to Pick a Winter Squash
- The squash should feel heavy and full when lifted.
- Look the squash over to make sure there are no soft spots.
- Blemishes, if any, should be minor surface ones.
How to Store a Winter Squash
- If kept at temperatures around 50-55°F (basement or cool pantry), a squash can last for 2-4 months.
- If kept on a kitchen counter, use within a month.
How to Cut the Winter Squash
- Wash the squash. Dry it well. Lay the squash on its side. Cut the ends off and then crosswise in half. Inch into the squash using the knife in a sawing and rocking motion. Peel the halves carefully using both a peeler and knife. Scoop out the stringy fibers and seeds. Cut into chunks.
- Microwave the squash for 5 minutes. Let it stand for another 5 minutes. This softens the rind, making it easy to cut the squash. Watch that it doesn’t start cooking in the microwave and get soft, if you want to keep and use as chunks.
- Boil the squash for a few minutes to soften the rind.
What to Make with Winter Squash
- Roast the seeds; they make a great snack or as a garnish for soups.
- Treat the squash like a sweet potato or yam: roast, bake, or puree them.
- Use winter squash for stuffing.
- Make soups: Cut the squash up into chunks. Add low sodium stock to it and cook on low for 30-40 minutes.
- Prick the squash in several places (to let the steam out), and bake whole in a 400°F oven for about 40 minutes, or brush the halves with oil and place the cut sides down on a roasting pan and bake until soft – 30 minutes. Broil for 5 minutes to caramelize the top. Add maple syrup or cinnamon sugar for a healthy dessert.
- Add chunks of the squash into stews and curries. Winter squash absorbs the flavor of spices, and they add a fiber-packed punch to a meal.