All About Winter Squash!
The main difference between winter squash (pumpkin, buttercup, butternut or spaghetti squash) and summer squash (zucchinis, patty pans) is that the winter varieties are picked when fully ripened. Consequently, the flesh is drier and more fibrous, their seeds are fully developed, their skin is thicker and at times inedible, and they can be stored from three to six months in a dry and cool area.
Winter squash, especially the seeds, are renowned for their antioxidant properties. They are an excellent source of vitamin A and potassium; contain iron, copper, manganese, vitamin C, folic acid, pantothenic acid, vitamin B2 and B6. They provide few calories and are a good source of fiber - roughly 40 calories and 3 g of fiber per 100 g of cooked squash. They also have a hypoglycemic effect (lower blood sugar levels) and are an excellent addition to any diet, particularly for people with diabetes. The seeds are also a good source of heart healthy fats.
How to Cook Winter Squash?
Their flavorful and delicately sweet flesh can be steamed, baked, boiled or microwaved, then transformed into a multitude of dishes, both savory and sweet. A must in my kitchen, my favorite way to prepare them is to slice, season and roast them roughly twenty minutes or until their edges start to caramelize. A pure delight! They easily replace sweet potatoes in most recipes, but here are a few other easy ways to use them.
- Remove the seeds from the inside cavity with a spoon, carefully removing the fibrous strands, then rinse and dry them well. Dress them with oil and your choice of seasonings, spread them on a cookie sheet and cook them in a 400°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes. A nutritious and addictive snack!
- For velvety soups, cook pieces of squash in a good chicken or vegetable broth flavored with onions, celery, carrots or any other vegetable, root or leafy green (spinach). Then simply process everything in the blender and voilà!
· Mashed squash makes a great side dish and is easy to prepare. I like roasting them (cut in half leaving the skin on) while preparing supper and keeping some extra in the fridge. This way I can vary my menu by whipping some up into a quick, last minute purée!
- This same pre-cooked squash is perfect for those nights I want to spoil my family by making surprisingly quick squash gnocchi! Mix the squash (1.5 lbs.), two eggs and salt in a bowl then gradually add in 2 cups of all-purpose flour (a little more if the dough is too sticky). Cut the final dough into equal pieces and roll each piece into one inch thick logs. Cut the logs into ½ inch pieces and then cook them in boiling salted water. A dish worthy of a special occasion.
- Fresh squash can be added to any stew, soup, roast, braised or sautéed dish. Cooked squash is great for adding color and nutrition to a smoothie, couscous, risotto and your favorite salad! Finally, sweeten your palate the healthy way by adding grated or pureed squash to any muffin, cake, cookie and bread recipe.
- 1 lb. peeled squash = 2 cups cubed squash = 1 cup pureed squash
- When their skin is hard and tough to remove, keep it for cooking then remove it once cooled.
- Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and clove are spices that enhance the delicate flavors of squash.