Winter Squash come in a variety of sizes, colors, shapes, and flesh textures. Most winter squash are similar on the edible inside (except for spaghetti squash), and therefore interchangeable in recipes. Although a staple of modern-day Thanksgiving dinners, winter squash originates in South America and didn’t enter European plates until colonization.
Winter squash is a low-calorie food and is a good source of complex vegetable carbohydrates and dietary fiber. It is an excellent source of vitamin A, and a great source of vitamin C, potassium, and manganese. It is also a good source of iron and beta-carotene with the latter being higher in darker-skinned winter squash.
Buying & Storing
When choosing winter squash, look for ones with a hard rind, while avoiding ones with cuts, bruising, or soft spots unless you plan to use them immediately. Winter squash will store at room temperature for at least a month, but will deteriorate faster if the rind is punctured or the fruit is bruised. You can store most varieties of winter squash for several months in a dry and cool (50-55 degrees) but not cold location. For long-term storage, winter squash can be broken down (rind and seeds removed) and frozen raw or cooked and frozen in pieces. It can also be frozen as a puree in air-tight containers.
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Preparation – remove the top of the squash where it was attached to the vine/plant. For delicata squash, because the rind is edible, it is good practice to always cut the top and bottom off since the bottom of the squash where the flower was attached is often tough.
At this point, there are a variety of ways to break down a squash. Cut the squash in half, from top to bottom. Cut the rind off and cube it. However you decide to use your squash, just make sure to remove the seeds. Once you cut the squash open and reveal the seeds, the easiest way to remove them is with a metal spoon or scoop. Scrape away the seeds and the fibrous innards as you would when carving a pumpkin.
If breaking down a winter squash with a bulge and a neck (like butternut): Cut off the top and bottom, while not removing too much of the squash, just enough to have a flat top and flat bottom. Cut the neck off right above the bulge of the squash. Peel the halves separately. Slice, or slice and cube the neck. Cut the bulb in half and remove the seeds with a spoon or cut it into eighths and remove the seeds with a paring knife, making it easy to cube.
For reference, 1 pound of broken down squash (rind and seeds removed) is equal to about 1.5 cups cooked squash.
Boil/Steam – cut into 1.5- to 2-inch chunks and boil or steam for 15-20 minutes, or until tender. You can peel the squash before or after cooking, peel with a knife or peeler before, or let cool and pull rind from the flesh piece by piece. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper, mash and serve with butter, or puree and use for a “pumpkin” pie filling (best with acorn or butternut).
Roast/Bake – cut in half from top to bottom or cut the top off, scoop out seeds (cut into smaller sections if serving individual wedges) and baste in oil or butter. Place face down on a baking sheet, pour some water into the baking sheet and bake at 350 for 1-1.5 hours, until the squash is fork-tender. Acorn squash can be baked face-up with melted butter and brown sugar. You can also cube the squash and roast at 400 for 40 minutes and add to hash, puree and make a soup, or roast with root vegetables alongside roasting meats.
Blanch – remove the rind and seeds and then cut the squash into 1/2-inch or 1-inch cubes. Drop the cubes into a pot of boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes. Pour the pot through a colander and run cold water over the cubed squash or dump the squash into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Blanched squash can be frozen in freezer bags, seasoned and eaten as a side, or further cooked by roasting.