Authored by Rachel Bowers, UMN Public Health and Nutrition
Unmistakable signs of fall are all around us. Mornings are cool and crisp, school buses rumble down the street, in a few eager trees the leaves have started to turn colors. Another sign of the changing season is when winter squash appears in the farmers market. Members of the Cucurbiticeae family, these fruits grew on vines all summer, and are harvested when the rind hardens and deepens in color. Winter squash types vary widely, allowing for experimenting with them in the kitchen.
Some common varieties of winter squash include acorn, green with an unmistakable shape; butternut, a tan color with a rounded bottom and long neck; spaghetti, with pulp that looks like a plate of pasta, and familiar pumpkins. These are only a few of the many varieties that may be available. Look for a squash with an intact stem whose rind has well-developed color and is tough. Some squash, such as butternut, can be stored for weeks to months. They actually benefit from this extra time, becoming sweeter. Other varieties, such as acorn and spaghetti, do not keep as well, and should be used within a week. Regardless, all squash should be kept in a dark, cool area, but never in the refrigerator.
The hard shell does seem daunting, and takes a bit of work to get through. Cut the squash lengthwise using a sharp chef’s knife. If the rind is especially tough, carefully tap the top of the knife blade with a rubber mallet. Squash are delicious when roasted; simply remove the seeds and pulp from both halves, rub with oil and place cut side down on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees until the flesh is tender, about an hour, and then place a pat of butter in the seed cavity. You can top the squash with a variety of spices depending on your taste preference and the sweetness of the fruit. To sweeten it up, add a bit of brown sugar, cinnamon or nutmeg. To balance out the sweetness, sprinkle a bit of course salt.
Other preparation ideas include pureeing roasted squash with chicken or vegetable broth to make a soup, adding a splash of cream for smoothness. Peel and chop a squash, sauté, and add to a risotto or use it as a side dish on its own. Butternut squash are most easily peeled. Challenge yourself to use this versatile fruit.
Squash is a great source of soluble fiber, which benefits your intestines. Beta-carotene, which your body converts to Vitamin A, is responsible for the flesh’s orange color. Vitamin A is important for vision, cell growth, keeping your immune system healthy and bones strong. Keep a squash in your pantry for an easy, healthy addition to any meal.