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The World of Winter Squashes
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— October 16, 2010

The World of Winter Squashes

By Linda Melone
  • While the pumpkin is indelibly associated with October, this holiday mainstay isn’t the only squash that should adorn your table during the colder months.
The World of Winter Squashes

T’is the season for jack o’lanterns to peer out from porches and orange-colored pies to grace dinner tables. But when it comes to winter squashes, you don’t have to limit yourself to the ubiquitous pumpkin. Chock full of antioxidants and fiber, the members of this large vegetable family are as versatile as they are delicious. “All varieties lend themselves to pureeing, roasting and baking,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, a Washington, DC-based dietitian. Once cooked and mashed, squash can be stirred into soups, added to main dishes, seasoned and served as a side dish or incorporated into desserts and breads.

When cooking with winter squash, keep in mind the following:
• Wash the squash just prior to cooking. Cut in half and remove seeds and fiberous inner core first (exception: spaghetti squash).
• Use only small amounts of water when cooking to retain the most flavor and nutrients.
• To more easily cut hard-skinned fruits, poke holes in the squash and microwave it whole for three minutes, suggests Scritchfield. “You can cut it up easily and then bake as desired.”
• Most squash lend themselves to roasting. Halved squash typically require 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours in a 375° to 400° oven.


For baking and cooking, choose flavorful smaller, deeper colored pumpkins that have a nice aroma, says Julie Upton, MS, RD, dietitian and co-author of Energy to Burn (Wiley 2009).

Nutrition Notes: A cup of mashed pumpkin contains 50 calories and three grams of fiber. Pumpkins are rich in carotenoids, powerful antioxidants and pre-cursors of vitamin A.

Kitchen Tips: Cut pumpkins in half and discard stem section and stringy pulp. (Save the seeds to dry and roast.) Place the halves face down in a pan with 1/2-inch water and cover with foil. Bake in a 400° oven for 1 1/2 hours. Cool. Scoop out the flesh and puree or mash for use in cooking of baking.

Or simmer pumpkin chunks in chicken broth and puree with chipotle peppers for a pumpkin-chipotle soup, suggests Andrea Lynn, personal chef and senior editor for Chile Pepper Magazine. She adds that the smokiness of chipotle or smoked paprika pairs well with any winter squash.


Although they’re considered a type of winter squash, acorn squash belong to the summer squash family that includes zucchini and yellow crookneck. You’ll likely find the dark green variety in grocery stores, but yellow and even white varieties exist along with multi-colored versions. They keep for several months when stored in a cool, dry place.

Nutrition Notes: Acorn squash are high in fiber. They also supply potassium, magnesium and carotenoids.

Kitchen Tips: Lynn recommends roasting chunks of acorn squash and then tossing them with a flavorful vinaigrette. Or simply cut in half, remove seeds and pulp, place cut-side down on a baking sheet and roast for one hour at 375°. Turn squash cut-side up, sprinkle with cinnamon, seasonings and butter and return to the oven until the butter melts.


Shaped like a giant pear with smooth, tan skin, butternut squash range in size from two to three pounds. Their nutty, sweet flavor is similar to that of pumpkin.

Nutrition Notes: A cup of cooked butternut squash contains 80 calories and is a good source of vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, fiber and carotenoids.

Kitchen Tips: Chef Rebecca Goldfarb of The Social Table in New York City often prepares this Butternut Squash Gratin: Peel squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and boil until tender. Drain, puree and whisk in garlic paste, nutmeg, crème fraiche (or sour cream) and egg yolks (six yolks per three pounds of squash). Place in a buttered baking dish, sprinkle with grated gruyere cheese and bake, covered in foil, for 30 minutes at 350°. Remove the foil, increase heat to 425° and return to the oven until the cheese browns.


The extra hard skin makes hubbard squash one of the best keeping winter squashes (up to three months), says Scritchfield. They can grown to enormous proportions and for that reason are often sold in pieces. Look for smooth, dry skin and a dull rind free or cracks or soft spots and heavy for its size with a firm, rounded dry stem.

Nutrition Notes: Hubbards have no cholesterol, are low in sodium and provide good source of fiber along with vitamins A and C.

Kitchen Tips: Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Then cut into serving-size pieces, place on a cookie sheet and dot with butter. Sprinkle with salt, brown sugar and nutmeg, and bake at 375° for one hour or until tender.


Also known as peanut or Bohemian squash, the delicata has a tasty, creamy pulp reminiscent of corn and sweet potatoes. Unlike those of other winter squashes, you can eat the thin skin of this 5- to 10-inch squash. Look for a ripe fruit with less of a pale green and more of a warm cream color, suggests Scritchfield. When very ripe the squash will also show an orange blush.

Nutrition Notes: Delicata provides high levels of vitamins A and C, along with several B vitamins and fiber.

Kitchen Tips: Cut in half, scoop out the seeds and bake at 400° for an hour, cut-side down. Or cut the peeled squash into 1 1/2-inch pieces and cook in a skillet with butter, sage and rosemary. Add a cup each of apple cider and water, and continue cooking until the squash is tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.


Sometimes called vegetable spaghetti, vegetable marrow or noodle squash, this watermelon-shaped squash typically ranges from two to five pounds. When cooked, the flesh separates in strands that resemble spaghetti, making it a low-carb pasta substitute. Look for ripe, deep yellow squash versus unripe white ones. Choose larger fruits with a smooth skin, which are typically more flavorful than smaller squash, says Scritchfield. Spaghetti squash can be stored at room temperature for about a month.

Nutrition Notes: Spaghetti squash contains both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, along with vitamins A, B and C.

Kitchen Tips: Use a skewer to prick the squash all over to avoid having it burst in the oven; bake whole at 375° for one hour. When slightly cooled, slice in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Gently scrape out the insides of the squash with a fork to form strands; Lynn recommends serving it with tomato sauce or browned butter.

Hoisin Turkey Thighs with Squash

1 cup hoisin or sweet bean sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 1/2 tbsp rice wine or sake
2 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 tsp hot chile paste or dried chile flakes
3 lbs turkey thighs, trimmed of fat* cut through bones into 2” pieces
2 cups scallion greens cut into 1” lengths
3 1/2 to 4 lbs butternut or acorn squash, peeled, cut in half, with seeds removed
1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil

1. Create the marinade by mixing the first six ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl.

2. Put the turkey pieces in a large bowl and add the marinade. Toss to coat and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let marinate for 1 hour or longer in the refrigerator.

3. Preheat the oven to 400°. Toss the scallions with the marinated turkey. Pour into a large casserole with a lid, cover and place in the oven. Bake the turkey for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice.

4. While the turkey is cooking, cut the squash into 2” pieces. Toss with the toasted sesame oil. Arrange on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and cover with foil.

5. Place the squash in the oven next to the turkey casserole. Bake both for 20 minutes. Stir the turkey, cover, and remove the aluminum foil from the squash. Continue baking for another 25 minutes, or until both are tender (a knife pierced through the center should come out easily). Arrange the squash in a deep bowl or on a platter with a lip, and spoon the turkey with its sauce on top. Serve with steamed rice.


Spaghetti Squash with Zucchini,
Garlic, and Tomato Sauce

1 spaghetti squash (about 3 lb)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion (about 8 oz), cut into 1/2” dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes in juice, drained
2 small zucchini (about 8 oz total), trimmed and cut into 1/4” dice
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Pierce the skin of the squash in several places with a sharp knife or carving fork. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until tender when pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes. 

2. While the squash is baking, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a 10” sauté pan. Swirl to coat the pan and sauté the onion and garlic, stirring frequently, until softened and just beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, adjust the heat so the sauce simmers slowly, and cook for 20 minutes. Add the zucchini and simmer 5 minutes longer. Add the parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm over very low heat.

3. When the squash is tender, halve lengthwise. Use a fork to scrape the flesh from the skin, and place the squash strands in a serving bowl. Toss with the butter and season with salt and pepper. When ready to serve, spoon the tomato sauce over the top and sprinkle with the cheese. (The squash can be prepared up to one day in advance: Refrigerate, covered, and reheat in a 250°F oven or in a microwave until hot. The sauce, without the zucchini and parsley, can be made one day in advance: Bring to a simmer, then add the zucchini, parsley, salt and pepper as directed above.)


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