Nutritious and Delicious: Getting to Know Winter Squash
When the days grow shorter and the onset of winter becomes unavoidable, many people mourn the loss of colorful fruits and vegetables from summertime garden or market. But look more closely and you’ll discover a bountiful source of goodness in the form of winter squash! Much more than just its best known member — the pumpkin — this nutrient-rich family is available from early autumn through winter and comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.
Formally named the Curcurbitaceae family, all winter squash share some common characteristics. They all have hard shells that can be difficult to pierce, which accounts for their longer shelf life (some lasting up to six months!). They all have an inner hollow containing seeds, and the flesh, regardless of variety, tends to have a mildly sweet flavor and fine texture.
Nutritionally, winter squash are exceptionally rich in carotenes, which have been shown to protect against certain types of cancer. Other recent studies indicate they are loaded with anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and insulin-regulating properties. They are an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and B1, folic acid, potassium and dietary fiber.
All this goodness, plus they are delicious!
If you’ve been passing them by because you’re just not sure what to do with them, here’s a guide to help you see all the ways these versatile beauties can make your table shine, plus a recipe to get you started.
Acorn - Shaped like its namesake, the acorn. Mild in flavor, choose one with more dark green than orange in its shell for more tender flesh. Best roasted or stuffed.
Blue Hubbard - These greenish-blue squash are a new variety of their much larger, bumpy ancestors. They have a sweet orange flesh, great in sweet or savory recipes.
Buttercup - Compact and green, with lighter green variegated stripes, these have a pronounced bump, or “turban” on their bottoms. When freshly cut, they smell and appear almost like cucumber, but cooking turns the mild-flavored flesh drier and more dense. Well suited to purees, soups and curries.
Butternut - Pale orange and shaped like an elongated pear, this squash is one of the more common. They have a smooth, inedible rind which can be cut or peeled off.
Extremely versatile, they are delicious in soups (like the one featured below), chilis, stews and salads.
Delicata - This oblong, cream with green striped squash has a soft, edible rind that makes it easier to prepare. It can be cut into rings or sliced lengthwise and stuffed. Its softer shell makes it more susceptible to spoiling, so it’s best prepared within three weeks of purchase.
Kabocha - This Asian variety, sometimes called Japanese pumpkin, is round and green (similar to buttercup but without the stripes). It has a sweet, nutty flavor that shines in soups or stews, or simply roasted with either sweet or savory spices.
Red Kuri - This lopsided, reddish orange squash has a taste similar to chestnuts. Its smaller size and somewhat softer rind makes it easier to work with. Great roasted or in soups.
Spaghetti Squash - As its name implies, this squash has a unique flesh that, when shredded with a fork, resembles strings of pasta. Try it with your favorite marinara sauce and some sautéed vegetables!
Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Bisque
- 1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 3” chunks
- 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 tart apples (i.e. Honey Crisp), peeled, cored and quartered
- 2 T extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 1/2 tsp. cumin
- 1/2 tsp. ginger
- 1/2 tsp coriander
- 4 - 5 C vegetable stock
- salt and pepper
- Optional add-ins:
- 1 C coconut or almond milk
- 1 T maple syrup
- Optional toppings: toasted pumpkin seeds (for garnish)
- Pomegranate Arils
- Dollop of Cashew Cream
- Chopped Fresh Thyme
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. On large parchment-lined baking sheet, toss squash, onions, garlic, and apples with olive oil and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Roast vegetables until they are fork-tender and lightly browned, about 40 minutes. (Check halfway through and stir vegetables so they roast evenly.)
4. Meanwhile, place vegetable stock in large soup pot and bring to simmer.
5. Add all roasted ingredients to the stock. Simmer together for a few minutes, then remove from heat and puree with hand-held immersion blender. (Alternately, you can puree mixture in standard blender, just be sure to let ingredients cool a bit and do it in several smaller batches.)
6. Once soup is pureed, add milk and maple syrup and stir to combine. Adjust salt and pepper seasoning as desired.
7. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds or other toppings of choice.