Winter squash come in various shapes, sizes and textures in shades of green, yellow, orange, white and even blue.
Their tough outer rind sets them apart from their summer cousins (zucchini, patty pan and crookneck squash) which are harvested while immature and their skins are soft and tender. Because of their extended growing time, winter squash have a tough rind with a dense, sweet interior.
There are endless varieties of winter squash but those commonly found in grocery stores include:
- Butternut — This elongated, bell-shaped squash is one of the most popular. It has a small seed cavity leaving plenty of sweet orange flesh that’s equally good roasted, cubed or puréed. It also works well in soups, curries and pies.
- Kabocha — A round disc-like squash that’s most commonly dark green with light striations (there are some orange varieties). Kabocha has a sweet flavour with a dry, smooth texture. It can be roasted, puréed or used in soups, curries or desserts.
- Buttercup — A dark-green flecked squash with square edges and a distinct circular ridge or cup on the blossom end. The deep-yellow flesh is less sweet than other squash and quite dense and dry. It’s a great alternative to mashed potatoes.
- Acorn — A dark-green squash with deep ridges shaped like an acorn. While tricky to cut, this small squash is often roasted and served in halves either with a buttery sweet drizzle or stuffed with rice or other fillings. Its deep-yellow flesh is less sweet than other squash.
- Spaghetti — This cylindrical yellow, pale- yellow or striped green squash is very unique featuring long stringy strands that look like spaghetti noodles. While it does not taste like spaghetti, it is a great vehicle for sauces and toppings traditionally served with spaghetti.
- Pumpkin — The most famous of all squash, pumpkins come in all sizes. While large carving pumpkins are edible, they are less sweet and more watery than small pie pumpkins or sugar pumpkins.
Despite their differences, most squash can be easily substituted for one another. That’s right, you can make butternut or kabocha pie instead of pumpkin pie. Only spaghetti squash, with its unique string- like texture is hard to replace.
Now is the perfect time to buy fresh, local winter squash. It’s very affordable and can last for over four months if stored in a cool, dry place with good air circula- tion. But be careful, squash doesn’t do well in temperatures colder than 10 C (50 F) so don’t keep it in an unheated garage or refrigerator.
Try as many different varieties as you can — they’re good for you! Squash is an excellent way to get dark-yellow and orange vegetables on your plate. They’re an excellent source of beta carotene, vita- min C, folate, potassium and fibre. Here are a few tasty recipes to get you started.
Spaghetti squash mac and cheese
A creamy, cheesy and delicious way to serve spaghetti squash. Great for lunch or a side dish. Bake in a casserole dish or directly in the squash shell. Serves 4.
- 1 spaghetti squash
- 2 tbsp. butter or canola oil
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 1 c. milk
- 1 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. nutmeg (optional)
- 1/4 c. Panko crumbs
- 2 tbsp. parsley, chopped
- 3 tbsp. shredded Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C).
Wash and cut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds. Place cut-side down on a greased baking dish.
Bake for 45-60 minutes until fork tender.
Once cool to the touch, use a fork to scrape the strings out of the squash halves. Set squash strands and empty shells aside.
- In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat.
- Add onion and cook for 2 minutes until softened but not brown.
- Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.
- Stir in flour and mix well. Cook for 1 minute.
- Gradually whisk in milk until sauce thickens.
- Remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted and mixed in.
- Add pepper, salt and nutmeg. Taste and adjust as desired.
- Mix sauce with spaghetti squash strands.
- Divide mix into spaghetti squash shells or place in greased baking dish.
- In separate small bowl, mix Panko crumbs, parsley and Parmesan cheese.
- Sprinkle on top.
- Bake in preheated oven at
375 F (190 C) for 20-30 minutes or until heated through and top is browning. If top is browning too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.
Butternut squash and carrot soup
A smooth and creamy soup the whole family will love. For more adventurous eaters add a little curry paste, pepitas and cilantro. Serves four.
- 1 tbsp. canola oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded and coarsely chopped
- 3 carrots, coarsely chopped
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1 tsp. turmeric
- 1 tsp. coriander powder
- 6 c. vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 tbsp. lime juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 c. cream, milk or coconut milk 2 tbsp. cilantro or parsley
- 4 tbsp. toasted pepitas
In large saucepan, heat oil and sauté onion until soft. Do not brown.
Add squash, carrots and sugar and sauté for 10 minutes.
Add paprika, cumin, turmeric and coriander and sauté for 5 minutes. Add broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes until veggies are soft. Purée soup using an immersion blender or food processor.
Add salt and pepper, lime juice to taste. Slowly add cream or milk to soup.
Garnish with chopped cilantro or parsley and toasted pepitas.