How to Cook with Winter Squash
As the seasons begin to turn and we head into the cooler months our dietary needs begin to shift and change. No longer do we need as much of the fresh fruits and berries, but our bodies require more warming foods to help us adjust to the cooler climate. Although pumpkins seem to get all the glory of the season, be it a Halloween or pumpkin spice everything, other varieties are not to be forgotten, so here are some great tips on how to cook with winter squash.
Winter squash come in many different varieties, and they are the denser, sweeter and more versatile cousin of summer squash (zucchini). Winter squash differ from summer squash because they are picked after they have fully matured, which is what gives them their harder outer shell. Although they might seem rather inedible when looking at them, winter squash can easily be prepared into a variety of different dishes including soups, stews, casserole, salads, purees, and side dishes.
While we have become accustomed to thinking of superfoods and leafy greens as powerful sources of antioxidants, winter squash are not to be outdone. With their bright yellow and orange flesh, winter squash are a powerful source of beta-carotene and phytonutrients, with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and blood sugar regulation properties. A natural source of unrefined slowly metabolized carbohydrates, winter squash are a substantial source of energy and a great alternative to grains or potatoes.
To get the most out of your winter squash, all you need to know are the different types available and what to do with them. Although there are hundreds of varieties of winter squash, here are of the most commonly found in your local grocery store or at your local farmers market.
Types of Winter Squash
There are many types of winter squash, all with different flavors and textures. Here’s are the ones you are most likely to come across.
Acorn: These little guys look exactly what you would expect them to look like; acorns! These squash are typically smaller in size, with a dark green shell and bright orange interior. The skin on acorn squash is difficult to peel when raw, so acorn squash are best cooked in order to scoop out the sweet flesh.
Delicata: With is pale yellow exterior and long length, this winter squash more closely resembles it summer cousins. They are one of the smallest winter squash, and rather easy to cut and cook.
Buttercup: Buttercup squash is squat and round with a crown-like top. This variety has a creamy flavour and is considered sweeter than other winter squash varieties. They make a great mash or soup.
Butternut: Probably the most common of all the winter squash, this is the most popular kid in the squash class. This variety has a pear-shape and is more easily peeled before cooking. Their flesh is very smooth in texture, and is incredibly versatile as it can be used in almost any recipe.
Spaghetti: Take a fork to the flesh of these guys once they are cooked and you will understand where they get their name. Spaghetti squash is a great alternative to any pasta dish, but be sure to cut the squash horizontally to get the longest noodle strands.
Pumpkin: Although pumpkins have their own family, they are technically part winter squash. Not all pumpkins are edible, and some are reserved for carving, however many varieties of pumpkin can be cooked with and make delicious sweet or savoury dishes.
How to Select & Store Winter Squash
Look for squash that feel heavy for their size, and have dry surfaces without any soft spots or bruises.
Because of their hard shells, squash may be stored up to six months in a cool, dry place, which allows them to be enjoyed well into the winter months.
Squash can be cooked with the skin off or the skin on. For most varieties, it is easier to cook the squash with the skin on as it is easier to remove once cooked.
Most squash varieties can be cooked a number of different ways; roasting, baking, steaming, boiling or grilling works very well.
How to Prepare Winter Squash
- If you have never worked with squash, they can be a little intimidating, but not to worry, they are much easier to handle than they look. All you need is a cutting board and a good knife and you will be on your way to some gourd-geous meals.
- In order to cut your squash, it is easier to create a flat surface by slicing a small end of the squash off. This will ensure that the squash does not roll around when you cut it.
- Slice the squash in half with a sharp knife by laying it on the flat surface. The sharper your knife, the easier this step will be.
- Using a spoon, remove the seed and fibre from the core much, like you would empty a pumpkin.
- The squash can be cooked peeled or unpeeled; if you have a good peeler it can certainly be peeled ahead of time, but the skin is much easier to remove once the squash has been cooked.
- If you are roasting the squash, the skin can be left intact, however if it is going directly into a dish it is better to peel it completely.
How to Cook with Winter Squash
There are many different ways you can cook a winter squash; often baking it in the oven is the best way to attain a sweet and rich flavour, but it can easily be attached to soups and stews as well. Here are some great ways to add a little more winter squash to your diet.
- Roasting squash is probably the easiest way to cook with it, as long as you can turn on the oven, you can cook it this way.
- Cooking it at a high heat helps to caramelize the flavours and add more texture to it.
- The best varieties of squash for roasting are; all of them!
- Try a simple side dish of Roasted Delicata Squash for an easy dinner idea.
- Baking squash simply involves cooking it at a lower temperature than roasting it.
- This is a great cooking method if you are simply looking to pre-cook the squash before adding it to another type of dish.
- Butternut squash and spaghetti squash are great for baking if you want to use them for risottos or as noodles, respectively.
- Try my Slower-Cooker Meatball with Spaghetti Squash for the ultimate cold weather feast.
- Similar to potatoes, squash can also be turned into a mashed or pureed side dish that pairs well with meats.
- The squash can either be baked, steamed or boiled in order to soften them before mashing or pureeing.
- Butternut, buttercup and pumpkin are the best varieties for mashing and pureeing.
- Try a Butternut Squash Puree as an alternative for your next meat & potatoes meal.
- In addition to roasting squash on its on, you can stuff them with your flavour flavours to create a new dish.
- Depending on the size of your squash, it might need to be pre-roasted a little before adding your stuffing.
- Acorn and buttercup varieties are ideal for stuffing.
- Try my Stuffed Acorn Squash for a hearty and filling meal.
5. Soups & Stews
- One pot meals are ideal for cold winter days, and winter squash is a great addition to any one pot wonder.
- Butternut is the most commonly used squash for soup, but pumpkin, acorn and buttercup work very well too.
- Try my Curried Coconut Butternut Squash Soup for a week full of heart-warming lunches.
- Believe it or not, squash is not only for savoury dishes as it works well in baked goods too!
- Similar to an apple puree, squash purees can provide a lot of moisture and soft texture to baked goods.
- Although pumpkin is most famous for pie, squash can also be used in loafs, cookies, cakes and muffins.
- Try my Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pancakes for the ultimate weekend brunch!