All About Winter Squash
An interesting trivia note: The most popular variety of butternut squash, the Waltham Butternut, was developed locally, at the Waltham Experiment Station, current location of Waltham Fields Community Farm.
Pick unblemished squash that are heavy for their size. However, even if you pick perfect ones, spots may develop over time. These are a sign of rotting, which will soon affect the whole core. So if you see any spots developing use the fruit as soon as possible. The squash can still be cooked and frozen at this point if there is a large amount.
Winter squash are generally cured before being sold. This process extends their shelf life by allowing for full ripening as well as hardening the skin and healing wounds. Thus we can store winter squash for up to 3 months in the right conditions. Specifically, place the squash in a single layer, making sure the fruits do not touch each other. Do not place them on a concrete floor. The optimal storage temperature is 50-55°F temperature and relative humidity of 50-70 percent. In the late fall and winter, Shared Harvest recommends storing winter squash in an unheated entrance, attic space, or spare room.
Acorn types have the shortest shelf life, up to 8 weeks, and hubbard types the longest, up to 5 or 6 months.
There are many different types of pumpkin and winter squash, and for the most part recipes are interchangeable, though the both the types and individual harvests vary in their sweetness, taste, and texture. The exceptions to watch out for are spaghetti squash and pumpkins. Due to its unusual texture, spaghetti squash is prepared differently, as explained below. And many varieties of pumpkin are grown for non-culinary use and are not particularly tasty.
We generally do not eat the peel of winter squash, though some have thin, edible skins, such as delicata and acorn. The squash can be peeled, seeded, and cooked. Or, depending on the recipe, it is sometimes easier to cook the squash first and scoop the cooked flesh out of the skin. Huffington Post offers 7 hacks for safely conquering the thick skin on butternut squash.
Winter squash is extremely versatile. It's often quite sweet and can be used in desserts and baked goods as well as savory dishes. Squash can be baked, roasted, sautéed, pureed, steamed, or simmered in soups. It can also be frozen. I keep a bag in my freezer into which I put vegetable trimmings for soup stock, including the seeds and skin of winter squash.
BAKING or ROASTING: Halve the squash through the stem and remove the seeds. The squash can be baked or roasted in half or cut into smaller pieces. I typically brush it with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. I roast at 450⁰F until tender when pierced. This can take up to 35 or 45 minutes for large squash cut in half. Consult a recipe or use your judgment when baking smaller pieces. You can bake at a lower temperature.
BOILING: Place peeled, cut squash in a small amount of boiling, salted water, and cook until tender. This can be as short a cooking time as five minutes, depending on the size of the pieces.
STEAMING: Cook cut pieces in a steamer basket over an inch or two of boiling water until tender, 15-20 minutes. I often omit the steamer basket and have a small amount of water in the bottom of the pot, so most of the squash steams, though some pieces are partially submerged.
MICROWAVING: Prepare squash as for baking, but place in a microwave-safe dish cut-side down, and microwave on high until tender. Real Simple provides some guidelines for cooking times.
FREEZING: Winter squash can be frozen raw or cooked. It can be cooked with any of the above methods and then pureed and frozen. More detailed instructions are here.
University of Illinois Extension
Shared Harvest CSA
PA Nutrition Education Tracks
More About Spaghetti Squash
Spaghetti squash is so named because the flesh can be scraped with a fork and comes away in spaghetti-like strands. Despite this fun feature, I was disappointed the first time I ate spaghetti squash because I expected rich, sweet, winter squash texture and taste. Compared with most other cooked winter squash it seems watery and bland, and it doesn't feel like pasta, either.
Now that I know what I'm getting, however, I find spaghetti squash can make a perfect vehicle for enjoying sauce. And, dare I say it – it's gluten free and low carb. As with other winter squash, it can be cooked in the oven, steamed, or microwaved. As mentioned above, the strands are then easily removed with a fork.
When LexFarm CSA shares include spaghetti squash while end-of-summer harvest is in full swing, you can serve it with fresh tomato sauce or pesto, with the squash-loving flavors of brown butter, nuts, and sage, or with any other sauce you love. Huffington Post and The Kitchn provide more cooking details and recipes.
Recipe: Polka Dot Squash Quinoa
Makes 5 Servings
This recipe was adapted from Lemony Quinoa with Butternut Squash from FatFree Vegan Kitchen.
- 12 ounces butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice (about 2 ½ cups)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup red quinoa
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped shallots or red onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- All-natural vegetable broth (see tip below for amount*)
- ½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ¼ cup lightly toasted pine nuts
* The amount of broth needed and the cooking time will depend on your quinoa product. Read package directions for the suggested amount of liquid (it may range from 1 ¼ cups to 2 cups liquid per 1 cup quinoa). As a rule of thumb, we tend to cook the quinoa in the liquid 2 to 3 minutes longer than suggested, and then we let it stand 5 to 10 minutes until the quinoa fully absorbs all the liquid. If you can’t find red quinoa for this recipe, just use the regular beige variety.
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a bowl, toss the squash with ½ tablespoon olive oil. Place on a large rimmed baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Stir halfway through.
2. Place the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse very well several times in cold water. Drain well and set aside.
3. Heat the remaining oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots soften slightly, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low if the garlic browns too quickly.
4. Add the broth and thyme, raise the heat, and bring to a boil. Stir in the quinoa, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer according to package directions until the liquid is absorbed.
5. Transfer to a large bowl. Gently stir in the cooked squash and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with the toasted pine nuts on top.
Nutrition Information per Serving (about 1 cup): 140 calories, 10g fat (0.5g saturated), 125mg sodium, 33g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 7g protein, 150% vitamin A, 20% vitamin C, 15% iron
Liz Weiss, MS, RD and Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RDN are The Meal Makeover Moms, and together, the dietitian duo is on a mission to help busy families eat better. For more recipes, check out their new app, Meal Makeovers, their cookbook, No Whine with Dinner, read their blog, Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen, or listen to their free radio podcast, Cooking with the Moms.
More Ideas for Winter Squash
Make a simple winter squash curry.
The Native American legend of the three sisters has been passed down through the generations. Winter squash has long been planted along with beans and corn due to their complementary growing habits. Try this three sisters' stew topped with corn dumplings.
Serve charbroiled slices of winter squash over a spicy ranchero sauce with black beans.
A panade is similar to a savory bread pudding. This one includes winter squash, mushrooms, and red wine.
Toss roasted squash and quinoa with sage-brown butter.
Use winter squash for a colorful batch of gnocchi.
Serve sausage and onions over a bed of creamy polenta cooked with grated winter squash.
Roast winter squash in this spice mixture. Double the spice mixture so you can make it another time. It's one of Jackie's favorites (on sweet potatoes, too). Or roast with sweet spices, lime and chile.
Throughout the season, we've offered ideas for fries made with many vegetables. Winter squash lends itself to oven-frying too.
Winter squash adds an autumnal flavor to lasagne made with white sauce (béchamel). This recipe layers a variety of fall vegetables including squash, mushrooms, and spinach between homemade noodles. This one complements the squash with hazelnuts and sage. This one adds a touch of summer with pesto in the sauce. It is easy to make béchamel vegan by using olive oil or earth balance along with non-dairy milk.
Try roasted butternut alfredo, a take on fettuccine alfredo that uses cashews to make the cream sauce. The texture is different from béchamel, which could be substituted.
Pureed winter squash makes a warming cold-weather soup.
Or you could start with roasted squash. Many recipes complement the squash with the flavor of seasonal fruits, such as apples, apple cider, or pears. Coconut milk adds a South Asian touch along with lemongrass or garam masala. Combining with chestnuts or rutabaga adds additional autumn notes.
Trade the tomatoes and cucumbers for roasted squash and Brussels sprouts in this fall version of the pita bread salad, fattoush.
Steamed squash adds color to a black bean salad.
Top arugula or other salad greens with warm roasted cubes of winter squash and walnuts or lentils and goat cheese.
These muffins are delicious with fresh roasted squash or pumpkin or canned pumpkin (which is usually squash). Jackie usually increases the squash by ½ cup, reduces sugar by ½ cup, and uses whole wheat pastry flour. They freeze well too.
Make scones with squash puree and top them with sage leaves for a seasonal touch.
This twist on rugelach looks amazing: a savory version with squash, walnuts, and sage.
Do you like pumpkin pie? Try one with homemade squash puree, as in this recipe or this one.
Don't discard the seeds. Roast them for a snack. You might have done this with pumpkin seeds before, but it also works with seeds from any other winter squash like butternut or acorn.
This post from Food 52 invites you to enjoy butternut squash at every meal. If you need more ideas, check out Honest Cooking, Savory Simple, Smitten Kitchen, 101 Cookbooks, Sunset, Huffington Post, The Kitchn, and Food 52. There are so many possibilities, we came across not just one, but two different winter squash slideshows on Epicurious.