It's that time of year when we get to enjoy those beautiful yet oddly shaped squashes. Their strange shapes and irregularities add to the charm. So do their colors, with the oranges, yellows and greens. We look at them and are ready to take them home. But after making a nice table setting, we ask ourselves, “How do we eat this thing?”
Pumpkins may get all the fame because of Halloween, and pumpkin spice foods and scents and in just about everything this time of year, but there are many other versatile, vividly colored, flavorful, and nutrient-packed winter squash varieties to brighten up cold weather dinners. The term winter squash may be a bit of a misnomer: These hardy vegetables, harvested in the fall, will last through the winter months for which they're named.
Sweeter and denser and firmer in texture than summer squash or zucchini, autumn and winter squash get along well with a wide array of seasonings and can be used I a variety of ways to add a little warmth to your fall. Those varied shapes, sizes and colors make them all a little different, but they are all excellent sources of vitamin A, vitamin B, and beta-carotene. A few of the squash grown locally include spaghetti, delicata, acorn, butternut and pumpkin.
Let’s take a look at how to prep your winter squash. As a rule, when making a puree, microwave the squash before peeling to soften the skin. If you are roasting or baking the squash, there’s no need to microwave or peel, just cut your squash into manageable sizes and remove the seeds prior to cooking.
If your Halloween pumpkin was small and squat, chances are it was a sugar pumpkin. But more than just decorative, sugar pumpkins are prized for their classic pumpkin flavor, as well as for their thick and flesh-packed walls. If you'd like to opt out of canned pumpkin for your baking and make your own purée instead, reach for a sugar pumpkin. If you want to add pumpkin to a dish or serve it as a side, cut your pumpkin into a manageable sizes like halves, thirds, or quarters and remove the seeds. Place these pieces in the microwave for 3-5 minutes or until the skin softens. Set aside to cool. Once cooled, use a peeler or sharp knife to peel the skin and cut or dice to prepare your dish.
A slim neck and bulbous bottom give the butternut squash its distinctive bell shape. The muted yellow-tan rind hides bright orange-yellow flesh with a relatively sweet taste. To make butternut squash easier to handle, cut the neck from the body and work with each section separately. Cut the bottom off your squash to create a flat surface. Tip: cut where the bulbous part of the squash begins, and then cut the top of the stem off. Using a peeler, remove the skin from each section. Slice each section length wise, remove seeds with a spoon and slice, dice, or spiralize as needed to prepare your dish.
Take a fork to the inside of a cooked spaghetti squash, and you'll understand how this variety got its name. By scraping the flesh, you'll get "strings" that closely resemble noodles. Who needs heavy pasta when you have simple to prepare, nutrient-rich spaghetti squash. In a hurry, cook it in the microwave. This week, Sue Sheff’s Weeknight Bolognese with Spaghetti Squash recipe describes how to do both. To prepare the squash in the oven preheat to 375 degrees. Cut your squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Bake squash on a baking sheet for 30-35 minutes or until tender and rake the flesh of the squash using a fork to get a spaghetti consistency. For the microwave, place the squash half in a microwave safe dish, cut side down. Fill dish with about an inch of water. Cook on high for 12 to 20 minutes. When you can pierce the squash with a fork, remove and let cool face up. Start raking.
Delicata is an oblong squash that is often referred to as a “sweet potato squash”. With its pale yellow shading, most closely resembles its summer squash cousins. The skin is tender enough to eat when cooked, so there's no peeling involved. All you have to do is slice it, scoop out the seeds and then cook it. You can bake or roast delicata. When cooked, the delicata has a consistency similar to that of a sweet potato—creamy and soft—although the flavoring is a bit more earthy. Because of its shape, it’s easy to slice them or dice them or cut them lengthwise. You can even shred it and form patties as an alternative to Latkes.
Named after it's shape, the acorn squash has dense flesh and is green in color. Acorns with shades of orange have a tougher, more fibrous flesh. Eaten with or without the skin, acorn squash is bright and sweet and great roasted, baked, or as a puree. On this week’s menu, Sue Sheff offers acorn squash wedges as a complement to grass-fed rib-eye steak. The squash are roasted so the moisture evaporates and the sugars come to the surface and caramelize which adds a depth of flavor for the squash. For a bit of brightness, a mild chili dressing is drizzled over the top. The dressing was designed for the squash but it goes great with the steak as well. Give it a try.