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— January 6, 2020

Serving Up Squash

By Corinne Gaffner Garcia
  • Pumpkin is the best known winter variety—but it isn’t the only one.
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Winter squash is aptly named. Unlike the thin skin of summer squashes, the thick skin on winter varieties helps them keep a long time.

And there’s no denying that the nutty, smooth flavor—perhaps topped with a dab of butter—works well in colder, comfort-food weather.

Throw in the fact that squash is about as nutrient-rich as they come, and you have the perfect addition to your winter meal plans.

Nutritious and Tasty

“I think winter squash is magic,” says Stephanie Pedersen, author of The Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookbook and Roots: The Complete Guide to the Underground Superfood (both from Sterling). “Here you have something that is so densely nutritious, with such a lovely flavor.

“And it grows quite easily, keeps really well and looks beautiful, so you can keep it out on the dining room table as a centerpiece. It’s so versatile.” 

Pumpkin, only one variety of winter squash, is the type everyone has heard of. According to Pedersen, the words “pumpkin” and “squash” were used interchangeably in early America.

Pedersen explains that in other cultures, roasted winter squash is a regular part of a cold-weather meal. In the US, it’s mostly thought of for use in pumpkin pie (typically made with canned pumpkin), stews and soups. 

Pumpkins used for jack o’ lanterns, known as field pumpkins, do not make good eating. For cooking, most people use the smaller, round sugar pumpkin.

One cup of cooked pumpkin provides fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, beta carotene, various B vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin K.

Beyond Pumpkin

As useful, nutrient-packed and readily available as pumpkin is, it isn’t the only winter squash out there.

“Among eating varieties, the butternut is also popular,” Pedersen says. “It has a smooth texture, bright color and sweet taste, and it’s easy to prepare.

“Smaller winter squash, such as acorn and delicata, are also very popular, as they’re easy to prep and can be stuffed with fun things.”

Pedersen adds that spaghetti squash has become a low-carb replacement for traditional pasta. A Japanese variety, kabocha, is well regarded as a low-
calorie, nutrient-dense food.

Tips for Prepping Squash

How do you select a squash? Pedersen says to choose one with vibrant color, that feels heavy for its size and that has no soft, moist, brown spots or discolored patches. “The stem end and bottom are typically the first to go, so press these areas gently with the pad of a finger,” she suggests. “It should be firm and dry. If there is any give, the squash is on its way out.” 

Pedersen says you can store squash in any dry, cool room, although a 50º to 55º room with low humidity is best.

There are a number of ways to incorporate winter squash into meals.

One simple cooking method is to halve the squash (depending on the hardness of the variety, this ranges from easy to difficult), scoop out the seeds, set the halves on a baking sheet with the cut side down and bake at 350º for about 30 minutes or until soft.

The cooked squash can be served right out of the oven with a little butter, but Pedersen scoops out the soft flesh and stores it in small containers.

“I keep three or four of these in the fridge and store the rest in the freezer for up to three months,” she says. “Then I can scoop a bit of soft winter squash into smoothies, soups, pasta sauces, casseroles, muffins and so on for those amazing antioxidants, phytonutrients and fiber.”

Another way to prepare the squash is to halve it, remove the seeds, peel off the skin, cut into uniform-sized cubes and toss with olive or avocado oil, salt and pepper, and other favorite seasonings. Spread the cubes in a single layer on a baking pan, and bake at 400º until caramelized and tender.

“You can eat this immediately, or store it in the fridge for up to five days,” Pedersen says. “I toss these cubes into salads, pasta and sandwiches, use them as a garnish, add them to soup or stir-fry them with bacon for breakfast hash.”

Try adding winter squashes to your plate—and warm up to the comfy flavors and abundant nutrients they can provide.  

 

ET RECIPE

Squash Dip/Spread

“This is one of my household’s favorite dips,” says Stephanie Pedersen. “It’s healthy (beta carotene, fiber, phytonutrients) and economical.” She adds, “Try it with sweet potato or carrots if you are out of squash. And feel free to add or subtract the amount of garlic or seasonings used.”

2 cups chopped raw winter squash/pumpkin, any variety

1/2 small garlic clove, chopped

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp finely grated peeled fresh ginger

1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

Pinch cayenne pepper or dash hot sauce (optional)

1–2 tbsp tahini, almond butter or cashew butter

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Salt and ground pepper, to taste

1. Set a steamer basket in a saucepan with 2” simmering water; add squash. Cover and steam until tender, about 12 minutes. Or simply boil squash in a small amount of water and drain when done.

2.  Transfer cooked squash to a food processor, along with garlic, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne pepper/hot sauce (if using), tahini/nut butter, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Process until smooth, about 1 minute, adding up to 2 tbsp water if necessary. Adjust seasonings as desired.

Makes about 1.5 cups

Reprinted with permission from American Cozy: Hygge-Inspired Ways to Create Comfort & Happiness by Stephanie Pedersen
(Sterling; StephaniePedersen.com)

For a warm, comforting squash bisque, see this story at energytimes.com.

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