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You may have noticed varieties of squash appearing in your local grocery store or market. Here is a short guide for choosing, storing, and cooking this versatile vegetable.

Nutrition:

Winter squash is a very nutrient dense food. It is a good to excellent source of beta-carotene, fiber, and vitamin C (depending on the variety), and also contains folate and iron. It is low in calories and is fat free. For example, 1/2 cup of cooked butternut squash provides 40 calories, 225% of your daily recommended  intake of vitamin A and 26% of vitamin C.

Purchasing:

Look for a squash with a hard skin free of cuts or soft spots and a stem that is still attached. A squash that is heavy for it’s size means that there is plenty of edible flesh.

Varieties:

There are many varieties of winter squash available at the market. Here are a few examples:

Spaghetti: This unique squash is oval-shaped and yellow (and sometimes orange). The flesh is light yellow and stringy, like its namesake. Because of its mild flavour, spaghetti squash can easily be integrated into a variety of dishes. However, it tastes delicious simply tossed with butter or olive oil and salt and pepper, or topped with spaghetti sauce. Unlike other winter squash varieties, spaghetti squash is best if cooked al dente.

Acorn: This dark green, acorn-shaped squash has an orange, fibrous flesh. Popular for its small size, acorn squash is best for roasting with butter or oil and maybe a little brown sugar or real maple syrup for the sweet tooth.

Butternut: This tan-coloured, peanut-shaped squash is mild, solid, contains few seeds and is my favourite for soups.

 

Buttercup: A dark green squash with a rich orange flesh, buttercup squash has a bold sweet flavour and is excellent for roasting, mashing, and in soups.

Storage:

Raw squash (whole): Winter squash can be stored up to three months in a cool dry place. Leave part of the stem attached to help retain moisture.

Raw squash (cut open): Wrap in plastic wrap or place in a sealed container and store in the fridge up to five days.

Cooked squash: Store in an airtight container in the fridge up to five days or in the freezer for up to a year.

Cooking:

There is a very simple method for cooking winter squash that can be applied to all varieties.

  1. Carefully cut the squash in half vertically with a large knife (you will be cutting the stem in half). If it is a very large squash, you may need to cut it into smaller pieces.
  2. Scoop out the seeds (you can save the seeds for roasting).
  3. Spread the exposed flesh with olive or vegetable oil. Place cut side down on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 400°F for about 30-45 minutes (depending on the size and variety) until the flesh is easily pierced with a fork.

Recipes using winter squash:

Butternut squash and apple soup

Quinoa pumpkin muffins

Butternut squash and mascarpone gnocchi

Roasted squash seeds

 

The next time you prepare a squash or carve a pumpkin for Halloween, save the seeds and roast them. Roasted squash seeds are a surprisingly tasty treat.

Ingredients:

Seeds from a winter squash

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Rinse the seeds to remove the orange fibres. Pat dry.

In a small bowl, drizzle the seeds with olive or canola oil and sprinkle with salt and herbs. Some suggestions: paprika, oregano, nutritional yeast, chili powder, soy sauce (instead of salt), cayenne, or all of them! Spread on a baking sheet, oiled or lined with parchment paper. Cook 10–15 minutes until slightly browned. Stir a couple of times while cooking. Let cool.

Nutrition (1/4 cup):

  • Calories: 54
  • Carbs: 1.5 g
  • Protein: 2.1 g
  • Fat: 4.8 g
  • Fibre: 0.3 g

This recipe uses two of the main fall harvests available at your local farmer’s market. Squash is rich in vitamin A and apples add a pleasant sweet flavour to this blended soup.

Ingredients:

2 tbsp olive or canola oil

1 onion, peeled and chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced (about 6 cups)

2 apples, cored and chopped (pears work nicely here as well)

6 cups vegetable stock (or enough to cover the vegetables)

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are soft (about 3 minutes) add the carrots and squash and cook until the vegetables start to brown. Add the vegetable stock and apples. Simmer on low heat until the squash and carrots are soft (about 30 minutes). Add salt and pepper. Purée in a food processor or with a hand blender. With a hand blender, you can purée while it is still hot. In a blender or food processor, wait until the soup has cooled slightly, blend, then reheat to serve. Makes about 12 cups (3 litres).

Nutrition (per 1 cup serving, or 1/12 of the recipe):

  • Calories: 123
  • Carbs: 19 g
  • Protein: 4 g
  • Fat: 4 g
  • Fibre: 3 g
  • Vitamin A: 58% DV
  • Folate: 7% DV