Winter squash are prominently displayed at grocery stores in the fall and winter months, but many shoppers pass them by because they don’t know how to make them. Winter squash are easy to prepare and are a healthy addition to any meal.
The Cucurbitaceae family is the Latin name for gourds, pumpkins and squash. The terms Summer and Winter can be deceptive. Summer squash types are on the market all winter; Winter squash types can be found in late summer and fall, as well as winter.
This terminology was never meant to confuse — it just dates to a time when the seasons were more crucial to man’s survival than they are now. Vegetables that would keep until December became known as winter vegetables.
Winter squash are picked when they are fully mature, and they have a thick, inedible skin. This thick skin provides a protective covering for the squash and allows for a long storage life. Winter squash can be stored for three months or longer in a cool, dry place, preferably in a single layer.
Every part of the squash plant can be eaten, including the leaves and tender shoots, which can be cooked in omelets or made into soup. Winter squash are a good source of vitamins A and C, potassium and fiber. One-half cup of cooked winter squash has only 40 calories.
Some of the most popular types of winter squash are butternut, spaghetti, acorn squash and Delicata.
• Butternut squash is tan in color and has a long, bell-like shape.
• Spaghetti squash is oblong or oval in shape and yellow in color.
• Acorn squash is actually shaped like an acorn. It is dark green and has a ridged rind or skin.
• Delicata squash is oblong, ridged, and yellow and green. The skin is soft and edible.
When shopping, look for squash that are heavy for their size, free of soft spots and have a dull sheen (a shiny skin is an indicator the squash is not fully mature). Once butternut or acorn squash is cooked and cooled, it can be peeled away from the skin, cut into cubes, and used in soups, stews and casseroles along with other vegetables.
Butternut or acorn squash can be used interchangeably in recipes. Spaghetti squash is the exception. Once it is cooked, use a fork to peel the flesh away from the skin. It looks just like spaghetti as it peels away. Sauce and serve spaghetti squash like regular noodles.
Delicata squash is the easiest squash to prep and cook because of its soft, edible skin. It contains seeds in the center, but they can be easily removed by scraping them out with a spoon. This delicious recipe for Southwestern Stuffed Butternut Squash is a wonderful side dish or vegetarian entree on a cold winter’s day!
SOUTHWESTERN STUFFED BUTTERNUT SQUASH
2 Delicata squash
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons ground black pepper
1 cup cooked rice 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or hot sauce
1 (15-ounce) can black or pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 large bell pepper, seeded and chopped
4 springs cilantro, chopped
6 cherry tomatoes chopped
1/2 cup shredded Pepper Jack or Cheddar cheese
1 large avocado, peeled and sliced
4 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt or Mexican crema
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Place Delicata squash on a cutting board and use a sharp knife to cut the tips and tails off. Cut the squash in half, then scoop out the seeds and fibrous strands.
3. Drizzle the inside of the squash with oil. Use your hands to spread the oil all over the exposed interior so it is well-coated. Sprinkle the squash with 1/2 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper.
4. Place squash cut-side down on a large baking sheet. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until squash is soft when poked with a fork.
5. While the squash is baking, prepare the quick rice. Before adding water or broth to the rice, season with the remaining salt and pepper, the chili powder, cumin and cayenne pepper or hot sauce. Mix well and proceed with the directions for preparing the rice.
6. When the rice is done, add in the beans, chopped peppers, cilantro and chopped tomatoes. Mix together and heat on low for 3 minutes, stirring once.
7. Fill each half of the squash with even amounts of the rice mixture. Top each half of the squash with shredded cheese, then put the stuffed squash back in the oven for about 5 minutes to melt the cheese.
8. Remove from oven and top with avocado slices and plain Greek yogurt or Mexican crema, if desired. Serves 4.