What to Eat: Warming up to Winter Squash

Everyone is a-twitter about winter squash right now; ‘tis the season! But some fainter-hearted cooks are overwhelmed with the thought of cutting into this exceptionally sweet but hefty and tough-skinned vegetable. As a CSA member, a vegetarian and an adventurous cook, even I have avoided the at-times Herculean task of peeling and cutting. As soon as the season starts, my CSA squash start to pile up in the kitchen, looking more like decorative gourds than the tasty treats they really are.

Recently, I found a simple recipe for a  vegan (you heard me) Alfredo sauce – and the main ingredient was acorn squash. Of course I had one lying around, so I decided to give it a try.  The cooking instructions were incredibly uncomplicated – cut the acorn squash in half,

grab your biggest knife and a stable surface – or try Kim O’Donnel’s method “Whack it on the floor once and slice in half with a sharp knife”

scrape the seeds and then fill a roasting dish with about an inch of water, put the squash cut side down and roast at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes or until you can puncture the skin with a fork. At that point the skin peeled off, or you could have simply turned it over and scooped out the flesh. Easy!

I’ve roasted squash before, but this method was effortless! I skipped oiling the pan and/or the squash, and the flesh still didn’t stick to the bottom of the dish. Since I made that dish, I’ve applied the cooking method to other types of winter squash – butternut, kabocha, and what I think might have been a red kuri squash (another CSA leftover), all with great success. The water roasted flesh is ready to eat without any additional ingredients, or you could simply puree it and add some stock to make soup, mash it with some olive oil, salt and pepper as a side dish – or use this cooking method to satisfy the instructions for any number of recipes that include squash.

If you want even easier (because even the laziest of home chefs should learn to cook winter squash), just eat the skin! I love to eat the skin of Delicata squash and just read that because of its thin skin, the Delicata has only recently come back into fashion; it wasn’t sturdy enough for long distance travel as industrial agriculture started taking over. Not only is the Delicata squash small and easy to handle, but its thin skin is tasty to eat. To prepare it, just cut it in half, scrape the seeds, and prepare as mentioned above. You can eat the skin of any squash… it’s just that some are thinner and tastier. One of my favorite restaurants in NYC serves kabocha squash steamed with the skin on – delicious.

So get out to your closest farmers market and take advantage of the winter squash season, you will be happy you gave it a try. As for my vegan Alfredo sauce, while it wouldn’t fool anybody, it was very tasty and healthy too. But I think next time I’ll just call it what it is… winter squash sauce!

Season: Fall and winter, but some are available year-round! Different varieties are available at different times. Check out this wonderful page from What’s Cooking America to read about the different varieties – for each type they tell you the season – with photos and additional cooking instructions.

How to buy: Buy the heaviest squash (for its size, I mean – the denser, the better). Be sure to lookout for blemishes, bruises and soft spots – these will go bad quickly.

Storage: Winter Squash store from 1- 6 months in a cool storage area.

Cooking tips: If you have to peel and cube your squash, check out this wonderful tutorial.

Health Benefits: An excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber, and manganese. It’s also a good source of folate, omega-3 fatty acids, thiamin, copper, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, niacin and copper. Get an in-depth nutritional profile on the WHFoods website.

Recipes: There are delicious recipes for winter squash everywhere – cookbooks, blogs, websites. Here is a tasty roundup of butternut squash recipes from the readers of Food52. They all look amazing and in many of the recipes you could switch out the butternut squash for other varieties.

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