Now is the time to savor the goodness of winter squash...
but have you wondered what exactly do you do with these curious winter vegetables?
Whether you are already enjoying the bounty of winter squash or have never tried them, we want to share some incredibly delicious reasons why winter squash should be part of your routine!
So much so, it is the December Superfood of the Month!
Summer squash vs. winter squash...what's the difference?
Summer squash, such as zucchini and yellow squash, are considered the "soft-skinned squash” or “tender squash" while winter squash could be considered the "hard-shelled squash." Summer squash is harvested from early to late summer and is meant to be enjoyed shortly after harvest and eaten raw, sautéed, grilled or steamed. Their skins are edible and also easily damaged. Because they are so perishable, they should be enjoyed within a few days of harvesting.
Winter squash, on the other hand, is harvested from late summer to early winter. Because of the thick skins, they are not as perishable and are ideal to store through the winter…hence, the name "winter squash." Winter squash is typically not eaten raw and, because of their thick flesh, require longer cooking times than summer squash. The skin is often removed from winter squash before eating; however, the skin can add a great texture and color, especially when roasting certain varieties of squash.
Why is it important to eat winter squash frequently while it's in season?
Because all varieties of winter squash are not only a treasure trove of taste and textures, but they are also loaded with nutrients that sky-rocket your health. For example, is winter squash loaded with the phyto-nutrients that fight cancer? YES! Include the potassium and fiber that lowers blood pressure and cholesterol? YES! Has minerals that build your bones even as well as milk? YES! Does winter squash fill you up on less calories to naturally whittle your waist? YES! When we say winter squash is a superfood, we are not kidding!
Don't toss those seeds! The squash seeds are loaded with protein, fiber and zinc and can be a delicious snack when dried and roasted. And, it's so easy...simply rinse and dry. Then, toss with a little olive oil and salt. Place on a baking sheet and roast in the oven (250 to 300 degrees), for about 10 minutes until toasted and lightly browned. Let cool then store in an airtight container, they will stay fresh for several days.
What are the types of winter squash?
There are many varieties of winter squash. Here are some of the most popular and the ones that you are most likely to find at your local store or farmers’ market.
Acorn squash: has a subtly sweet and nutty flavor...and yes, you can eat the skin! Our favorite way to enjoy acorn squash is to roast it in the oven.
Try the Roasted Acorn Squash with Pine Nuts and Garlic, or stuff it and enjoy the Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash.
Buttercup squash (this is not a type-o, buttercup squash is different than butternut squash!): short and round, buttercup squash has in inedible dark green rind and vibrant orange flesh. It is similar to a kabocha squash, but has a round ridge on the bottom.
Buttercup is considered sweeter than many other winter squash with its sweet creamy flavor. Steaming and baking is best for buttercup squash because its flesh can tend to be dry. It also works great in curry dishes.
Butternut squash: this pear shaped squash is the sweetest variety of all of the winter squash, and the most versatile and most popular.
There are tons of ideas for butternut squash on Eat REAL America…some of our favorites are Sloppy Joes with Butternut Squash, Butternut Squash Tacos, Butternut Squash Minestrone, and Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette.
Delicata squash: also known as the "sweet potato squash", this squash is shaped like a small cylinder and typically has yellow skin with green stripes.
The skin of the delicata squash is edible and they are excellent for stuffing -- try our Stuffed Squash Taco Boats.
Hubbard squash: largest variety of all the winter squash -- hubbard squash are typically deep green to gray or blue, and are typically only sold at farmers markets because of their size.
When sold at the store, they are generally sold pre-cut and seeded. Hubbard squash have a rich, sweet pumpkin flavor and are an excellent substitute for any other type of winter squash in recipes.
Kabocha squash: short, squatty and round, and very similar to buttercup squash. Kabocha squash will have a dull finish with dark green skin, and sometimes will have small lumps.
They have a bright yellow-orange flesh inside and are also a great substitute for any other winter squash. This type of squash works great as a pie filling!
Pumpkin: not just for decorating! The pumpkins used for baking are smaller than the ones for decorating.
For the best flavor and texture, choose varieties that are grown for eating such as sugar pumpkins, sweet pumpkins, cheese pumpkins, and different heirloom varieties.
Spaghetti squash: the most fascinating squash of all (for kids and adults!) -- and the easiest way to turn a vegetable into noodles! This squash is fairly large and cylinder-shaped. It is pale-cream to bright yellow on the outside.
When cooked, the inside of the squash easily shreds into noodles, like spaghetti. The squash noodles are crisp-tender, with a mild flavor. They are not too sweet which makes them an excellent vegetable substitute for pasta. See our coaching tip for more info!
How do you pick and choose winter squash?
- The stem is the best indicator of ripeness. It should be intact, firm, dry and cork-like. If a stem is leaking sap, it means it was harvested before it was ready.
- They should feel firm and heavy for their size
- No soft spots, bruises or cuts
- They should have a dull, not shiny, finish. Shiny skin means the squash was likely picked too early.
How do you store winter squash?
You want to store winter squash in a cool dark place, and most of them will keep easily for up to one month or longer!
- Acorn and spaghetti squash: one month
- Butternut squash: 2-3 months
- Hubbard, banana, buttercup or turban: 3-6 months
How do you peel and cut winter squash?
In our experience, the easiest way to cut a winter squash is with a large knife, such as a chef's knife. First, cut the ends off the squash, then cut it in half, or in manageable pieces. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. You can then use a knife to remove the skin if desired. You are then ready to cut the squash in bite size pieces or slices for your recipe. For tips on how to cut and cook a spaghetti squash, check out our video.
Take the December Superfood Challenge and try winter squash different ways -- try preparing them at least once a week, you may find new meals you never knew you liked...or a new family favorite!
Recently, an Eat REAL America member told us she never thought she liked butternut squash (she thought it was "creepy"), because her mom never prepared it when she was growing up. She tried roasting it in the oven and couldn't believe it..she loved it! She said "I never knew what I was missing, and now I absolutely love it!"
How do you enjoy eating them?
We have recipe ideas that are sure to impress your taste buds, as well as your family and friends! Here are a few of our favorites, or just search "butternut squash" or "acorn squash" in the Eat REAL America recipe search field.
Lasagna Stuffed Spaghetti Squash
Quinoa with Butternut Squash and Sausage
Remember, you can substitute with your favorite variety of winter squash!
Share your results with us -- what is your favorite way to enjoy winter squash?
And, which one is your favorite?
I have a lot of favorites, but this one is leading the pack for me and my husband at this moment…Really yummy…. https://eatrealamerica.com/recipes/butternut-squash-veggie-bake/
I love all squash, but especially spaghetti squash because I can top it and use it so many ways. What I hate is cutting any squash through the tough skin. So, with spaghetti squash, I poke vent holes in the skin then put it in the microwave on high for 8 minutes. I stop it in 4 minutes to turn. Then, I remove it from the microwave carefully with a towel or pot holder. I easily slice off the ends and cut down the middle… then, I scrape out the seeds and “noodles.” Voila!!! Easy Peasy and yummy.
Great tips – thank you so much! And, so happy you have figured out how to love spaghetti squash too!