Winter Squashes….

The Wonders of Winter Squash

courtesy Lake Tahoe Markets

Winter squash, a member of the gourd family and native to Mexico and Central America, historically were consumed and used as containers and utensils. Most, like butternut squash, have a stronger, sweeter flavor then summer squash. And although they are called winter squash, they are planted during the warmer months and harvested before the first frost. They can be enjoyed throughout the cold months and are typically available all year long, with their peak season from October through March.

There are many varieties of winter squash, ranging in size (from less than two pounds to more than twenty), shape (round, oblong, acorn shape, etc), color (yellow, orange, red, green striped, blue), and taste (mild, creamy, sweet). The most commonly known winter squash include acorn, banana, butternut, delicata, Hubbard, pumpkin, and spaghetti varieties. With the exception of spaghetti squash, winter squash are starchy and contain beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A which is found in the orange colored flesh.

Winter squash is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene. It is also a very good source of thiamin, vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, and manganese, and a good source of iron.  The seeds, dried or roasted, contain protein and magnesium and can serve as a very filling, nutrient dense, low carbohydrate snack. If you aren’t interested in roasting your own seeds, you can purchase seeds, such as pumpkin, in the grocery store.

Whole squash should be stored outside the refrigerator in a cool dry place and will stay fresh this way for a few months. Pre-cut squash should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  Some varieties of winter squash such as pumpkin are available canned.

Aladay Organic Farms,
Photo: Aaron Aveiro

Winter squash can be roasted, baked, pureed, or sautéed. You can also mash or steam it and add it to soups, stews, and chili. Or stuff squash with whole grains or legumes for a nutrient and protein packed vegetarian meal option.  Some varieties, such as acorn and buttercup squash, should be cooked with the skins on—their skins tend to be harder than other varieties and can be a pain to peel.  Cooking winter squash with some unsaturated fat such as grapeseed or canola oil (they have higher smoke points) can enhance the absorption of vitamin A when ingested. Also, the roasting technique will bring out caramelization of natural sugar for better flavor.

photo: Aaron Aveiro

Spaghetti squash, another winter squash variety, is a low calorie, low carbohydrate substitution for pasta. It has a stringy, mild, slightly sweet flavor and is perfect base for olive oil or tomato sauces.  Stuff it, roast it, bake it, puree it, you name it. Serve it with breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, or dessert. This nutritious and delicious vegetable can take on a variety of flavors and is a wonderful addition to any meal.

For more information on seeds try Mary’s Heirloom Seeds

 

Until Next Time…

Happy Gardening

Aaron Aveiro