Recipe of the Week: Winter Squash

Try a new recipe! The Wellness Consortium of Union County has partnered with Union County Farmer's Market to bring you information and healthy recipes that feature locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Vegetable of the week: Winter Squashwinter squash

 

Winter squash is a warm-season vegetable that can be grown in most of the country. It differs from summer squash in that it is harvested and eaten in the mature fruit stage, when the seeds within have matured fully and the skin has hardened into a tough rind. When ripened to this stage, fruits of most varieties can be stored for use throughout the winter.

 

Selection & Storage
The squash family (Cucurbitaceae) includes pumpkins, summer squash and winter squash. They are really edible gourds. There are many varieties with a wide range of flavors and textures. Winter squash does not look the same either. Their tough outer shells can be smooth or bumpy, thin or thick and rock hard with a wide array of colors.

 

The most popular winter squash includes acorn, buttercup, butternut, calabaza, delicata, Hubbard, spaghetti, sweet dumpling, and Terk's Turban. There are many more, but this section will be limited to the above-mentioned varieties.

 

Winter squash is planted in the spring, grows all summer and is always harvested at the mature stage in early autumn before the first frost. Immature winter squash lacks flavor, so wait until the rind is hard. Harvest winter squash with two inches of stem remaining. A stem cut too short is like an open wound, which will cause early decay.

 

For storage, harvest sturdy, heavy squashes with fairly glossy skin that is unblemished by soft spots, cuts, breaks or uncharacteristic discoloration. Most winter squash benefits from a curing stage; the exceptions are acorn, sweet dumpling and delicata. Curing is simply holding the squash at room temperature (about 70 degrees) for 10 to 20 days.

 

After curing, transfer to a cool (45 to 50 degrees), dry place such as the basement or garage for long term storage. Careful, do not allow them to freeze. The large hard rind winter squash can be stored up to six months under these conditions. Warmer temperatures simply mean shorter storage time.

 

The smaller acorn and butternut do not store as well, only up to 3 months. Store cut pieces of winter squash in the refrigerator. Refrigeration is too humid for whole squash, and they will deteriorate quickly

Nutrition
Winter squash is a tasty source of complex carbohydrate (natural sugar and starch) and fiber. Fiber, which was once called roughage, absorbs water and becomes bulky in the stomach. It works throughout the intestinal track, cleaning and moving waste quickly out of the body. Research suggests that this soluble fiber plays an important role in reducing the incidence of colon cancer.

 

Winter squash is also a source of potassium, niacin, iron and beta carotene. The orange-fleshed squash is also an excellent source of beta carotene. As a general rule, the deeper the orange color, the higher the beta carotene content. Beta carotene is converted to Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A being essential for healthy skin, vision, bone development and maintenance as well as many other functions.

 

The nutrient content of winter squash varies, depending on the variety. The following information is a summary of all varieties, cooked, baked and cubed.

 

Nutrition Facts (1 cup cooked, cubes)

 

  • Calories 79.95
  • Protein 1.82 grams
  • Carbohydrate 17.94 grams
  • Dietary Fiber 5.74 grams
  • Calcium 28.7 mg
  • Iron 0.67 mg
  • Potassium 895.85 mg
  • Folate 57.40 mcg
  • Vitamin A 7,291.85

 

Preparation
Peeling winter squash can be a challenge to the novice. The thin-skinned varieties (acorn, butternut, delicata and sweet dumpling) can be peeled with a paring knife or vegetable peeler.

 

Most recipes using these varieties call for cutting the squash in half. Position the squash on a cutting board, stem end facing you. Place the blade of a heavy chef's knife horizontally along the length of the squash. With a hammer or mallet, repeatedly hit the back of the blade near the handle to drive it into the squash until it breaks in half.

 

Place the larger varieties (Hubbard and Turk's Turban) on newspaper and use a sharp cleaver to split the hard-rind open. Or use the chef's knife method described above. Once you have a slit cut, bang on a hard surface and pull apart. Pieces are easier to peel. With a spoon, scoop out the seeds and strings and discard, or set aside if you plan to roast the seeds. For instructions on roasting seeds, visit our website Pumpkins and More and substitute squash seeds in the recipe.

 

To cook winter squash, place unpeeled pieces cut sides down on a shallow baking dish and bake in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes or longer. Check for doneness by piercing with a fork or skewer. When tender, remove from the oven and allow the pieces to cool. Spoon out the soft flesh and mash with a fork or process in a blender or food processor. Peeled pieces can be cut into cubes and boiled until tender. Use with any recipe calling for cooked mashed or pureed squash. Or microwave the squash pieces on high for 15 minutes or longer.

 

Small acorn squash and spaghetti squash can be pierced in several places with a long-tined fork or metal skewer and baked whole. Piercing prevents the shell from bursting during cooking. Place the squash on a baking dish and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours at 325°F. Test for doneness by squeezing the shell. When it gives a bit with pressure, it is done.

 

Preservation
Store whole winter squash in an area where temperatures range from 45 to 50°F for three to six months. At room temperature reduce storage time to one and a half to three months depending on variety. See the selection and storage information above.

 

Cooked squash freezes well. Pack into freezer containers or freezer bags leaving 1/2 inch head space and freeze for up to one year. Canning is not recommended unless the squash is cut into cubes.

 

Mashed squash is too dense and heat penetration is uneven. Because spaghetti squash does not stay cubed on heating, it should be frozen instead of canned. For all other varieties, follow the procedure and processing times outlined in canning pumpkin.

 

Information adapted from http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/wsquash.cfm
University of Illinois Extension- Urban Programs, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, College of ACES
@2013 University of Illinois Board of Trustees

 2016 Recipe

2016 Squash Recipe Card

If you would like to print a copy of this recipe, click here

2015 Recipe

If you would like to print a copy of this recipe, click here.

 2014 Recipe

2014 Recipe Card - Apple-Stuffed Acorn Squash - Squash

If you would like to print a copy of this recipe, click here.

 

2013 Recipe (Oven Roasted Squash and Baked Pumpkin)

baked pumpkin 2

 

If you would like to print a copy of this recipe, click here.

 

pumpkin soup rc

 

If you would like to print a copy of this recipe, click here.