Enjoy the wonderful world of winter squash

Nature has an innate sense of what’s good for us.  It knows with each season what foods our body needs and will crave the most.  With the days becoming shorter and with the arrival of colder weather means one thing - it’s the season for winter squash.  Pumpkins may initially take center stage with the arrival of fall but winter squash will still be around long after seasonal pumpkins will be hard to find after Halloween has passed.

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The versatility, vivid colors and nutrient-packed winter squashes may be associated as more of an autumn décor but they should not be overlooked as a delicious addition to your diet.

Many people often question the difference between winter and summer squash.  Winter squash include acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash while summer squash includes zucchini and yellow squash. Their difference is that summer squash bears fruit best eaten when it is immature and the skin is tender making it ideal to harvest during the summer.  Winter squash is also grown in the summer but harvested in the fall taking longer to mature as it develops a more rigid and tough skin. 

All squash is technically a fruit because of its seeds.  But the high fiber content found within winter squash keeps you feeling fuller for a longer time than fruit will. Winter squash are also a low fat, no cholesterol food making them heart-healthy friendly.

Let’s take a look at each winter squash separately and what each has to offer:

Acorn Squash

Native to both North and Central America, acorn squash was a staple food of Native Americans.  When European explorers arrived, they took seeds of this squash with them back to their home lands and introduced it to their regions. 

Acorn squash has a delicate, sweet and slightly nutty flavor and is more nutrient-dense than its summer squash cousins.  It comes in a variety of colors including yellow, dark green, tan, and orange.

For its size, it has a broad diversity of nutrients.  But it’s particularly bountiful in vitamin C, providing a healthy boost to the immune system.  Vitamin C has the power to stimulate the production of white blood cells defending the body from disease-causing microbes.  Also acting as an antioxidant, vitamin C may be of benefit in protecting the body from chronic conditions such as heart disease and cancer.

Look for acorn squash with ridged, dark-green skin free of blemishes and heavy for its size. Its sturdy exterior allows it to be stored at room temperature for up to one month or longer it kept in a cool, dark place.

Don’t throw out the seeds!  Toss acorn squash seeds with a little olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Spread onto a baking sheet and toast at 275 degrees for about 15 minutes or until the seeds start to pop.

Butternut Squash

This winter squash grows on a long, trailing vine and is known in Australia and New Zealand as butternut pumpkin or gramma.  Its taste resembles that of a pumpkin with an orange fleshy pulp filled with seeds in the bottom third of its bell-shaped torso. 

As it ripens, its color brightens to more of a deep orange along with the pulp becoming sweeter and richer in taste.

Butternut squash is brimming with numerous health-promoting nutrients and is a good source of fiber, vitamin C, manganese, magnesium, and potassium.  It is considered to be an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin E. 

Here are other nutrition facts on butternut squash:

·      It has more vitamin A than a pumpkin containing about 354% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance. Vitamin A is required for maintaining the integrity of the skin and necessary for optimal eye-sight.

·      The seeds are a good source of fiber and monounsaturated fats benefitting heart health. 

·      One half cup provides only 45 calories, 21 milligrams of vitamin C, and 10% of vitamin E. 

Butternut squash has a lot of versatility in how it can be used in cooking – from creamy soups, hearty pastas, stuffed with wild rice, stir-fry with veggies, added to mac and cheese or simply roasted, this squash does it all.

Choose one that is feels heavy for its size and has a thick neck, which is where most of the edible flesh is located.  Look for smooth, unblemished skin and a buttery or tan, even color. -

Store butternut squash in a cool room – if storing long term, 45 to 50 degrees is ideal placed on a shelf, table and not on a cold floor.  At this temperature it will retain its quality for up to six months.  But store squash only if it has a stem attached as a stemless squash won’t keep well and they should be used immediately.

Aren’t sure how to use butternut squash?  Peel and cube into small pieces, toss with olive oil, salt, cinnamon, and turmeric roasting at 400 degree for 20 minutes – delicious!

Spaghetti Squash

This squash takes the award for most unusual appearance after cooked and earns its name due to the strong resemblance it has with spaghetti.  Once cooked, the fibers of spaghetti squash easily separate to form spaghetti-like strands. 

One cup of spaghetti squash contains 170 international units of vitamin A making it a good source of this fat-soluble nutrient.  It also contains several B vitamins along with vitamins C, E, and K.  Spaghetti squash is a good source of minerals essential to the body such as calcium, zinc, coper, manganese, and selenium.

Because of spaghetti squash unique long spaghetti-like strands after cooked, it can a very nutritious substitute for spaghetti.   Blending cooked spaghetti squash into soups, quiches, frittatas, or sauces will add texture and flavor.

Choose spaghetti squash with a firm, dry rind free of soft spots and cracks. It also should be heavy for its size with a firm, rounded stem that helps keep out bacteria.  Store it in a cool, dry place – preferably 55 to 60 degrees – for up to 3 months.  If stored in the refrigerator, it needs to be used within 1-2 weeks otherwise it will quickly spoil.  Cut squash should be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated.