As fall turns to winter, in many parts of the country, seasonal fruits and vegetables become limited. Whereas warm weather brings a cornucopia of produce, winter brings few fresh and local options. Yet when others die off, squash thrives. Squashes come in all shapes, flavors, and textures. From soups to pie, squash is your go-to healthy winter meal solution.
Squashes are part of the gourd family and come in two main varieties. Summer squashes, as their name implies, grow in the summer. Common examples are zucchini and yellow squash. Whiles these are wonderful ingredients, we are nearing the end of their season. Today, we will focus on winter squashes, which grow in the fall and winter. These include butternut, acorn, spaghetti, kabocha, and the pumpkin. Let’s explore these five wonderful squashes and their uses.
The butternut squash may be our most versatile choice among winter produce. Tall and thin at the top with a bulb at the bottom, look for ones with an orange skin color as these will be the sweetest. While the seeds and skin are edible, I like to peel the skin and then scoop the seeds out with a spoon. The incredibly hard flesh requires sharp and careful knife work. You can cube it and oven roast it with olive oil or stew it and blend it for a creamy soup. It also serves as a wonderful base to complement other flavors, as it does in our Eggplant-Butternut Squash Soup.
This round squash, stripped with green and yellow, is a wonderful option for side dishes and main courses alike. Its round shape makes it the perfect edible bowl. Split the squash in half and fill the center with a ground meat mixture (pre-cooked) or brush with a maple syrup glaze and roast in the oven. It is a favorite fall meal at my home.
A rather unusual item, the spaghetti squash is desired for its stringy innards. To prepare it, steam, roast, or even microwave (poke holes with a fork around the exterior first) until soft. Then, allow to cool enough to handle. Split in half and remove the seeds. Using a spoon, scrape the spaghetti like flesh. It is great in any application you might use regular spaghetti, like our Bruschetta and Brie Pasta.
Common to Asian cooking, this squash looks like a green pumpkin. When cooked, it is wonderfully tender possessing a flavor somewhere between a sweet potato and pumpkin. Whether fried as tempura or stewed in a variety of Japanese and Korean dishes, it is a great wintertime staple. Kabochas also possess similar characteristics to squashes common in Mexican and Dominican cooking and serve as a great substitute when those varieties are not available.
The cultural symbol of the fall, the pumpkin makes for wonderful savory and sweet applications. Use it in a soup or mix it into pancakes. Bake it into bread or serve up a classic pie. As wonderful as it tastes, fresh pumpkin can be hard to work with. While you can spend hours scooping out seeds (and roasting them for a wonderful snack), cooking the pumpkin, and harvesting its flesh, we recommend you just go with the canned stuff, so long as it is 100 percent pure pumpkin.