Winter squash and summer squash are not difficult to differentiate. Cucumbers and zucchini are the most recognized of the summer squash–they have tender skin and watery flesh and thus, they’re ill-suited to long-term storage. If you used to find squash in your grandmother’s basement or tucked under your cousin’s bed, chances are they were the winter varieties like Acorn, Hubbard, and Butternut squash. Specifically bred for a tough skin and low-moisture yellow to orange flesh, winter squash ensured that families could store and eat the healthful vegetable throughout the winter. Some varieties will stay in perfect condition for six months or more when stored properly; in fact, my mother had a spaghetti squash perched on her basement steps for almost a year with no ill-effects whatsoever.
The orange color of the flesh should give you an idea about the health benefits winter squash provides. Like carrots, all winter squashes are excellent sources of vitamin A and C. They’re high in fiber and beta carotene and they’re a fantastic vegan source of omega-3 fatty acids. As is generally the case, the darker the flesh, the more beta carotene you can expect to get.
Mommy’s Little Helper
Winter squash’s natural sweetness and subtle flavor means it’s a no-brainer for kids. Whether it’s baked into cookies or bread like my Pumped-Up Pumpkin Bread Recipe (try substituting any of the winter squashes for the pumpkin too!) or MarthaButternut Squash Fries, it’s easy to boost a meal or dessert’s nutrition with this versatile vegetable. My Curried Squash and Apple Bisque with Leeks is a tasty and easy fix for a cool fall day. The hubbub a few years back about adding squash puree to homemade mac-n-cheese is a pretty solid idea if you’re into hiding healthy things so your kids won’t know they’re eating it.
I prefer to be upfront about what the kids are enjoying, and one of my favorite ways to pump the squash into them is with Pumpkin Waffles. I favor this recipe, except I cut the butter WAY down from 4T to 1 and I substitute in 1/2 cup of soy flour for 1/2 cup of the regular flour for a protein boost. With only 1/4c. sugar in the entire recipe, they’re still sweet enough to enjoy cold and unadorned, which makes them a great lunchbox item. Similarly, you can add pureed pumpkin or squash to your favorite pancakes. My rule of thumb is to add about 1/2 cup of squash puree and a large pinch of cinnamon per 2 cups of finished batter. If you add more than that, you’ll end up with lead disks.
Roasted Squash: Save Your Fingers. Use The Oven.
Whether it’s Butternut, Buttercup, Acorn, or Delicata–or even diminutive sugar pumpkins for your favorite pie filling–getting winter squash cooked is a no-brainer. You can skip the tedious–and often dangerous–step of peeling and cubing squash for boiling by using the oven instead.
- Remove the stem and cut the squash in half from stem to tip.
- Scoop the seeds out. Remember that all squash seeds are edible, so you can always rinse and roast them just as you would pumpkin seeds (instructions here).
- Lay the squash halves cut side down on a sheet pan that you’ve lightly coated with nonstick spray.
- Bake at 350˚F for about an hour per inch thickness of flesh. So if you’re using a delicata squash whose flesh is only 1/2” thick, begin checking doneness after half an hour. When the tip of a paring knife inserted into the flesh meets no resistance, your squash is done.