Winter Squashes – Versatile and Delicious

Fall and winter tend to gravitate to more hearty foods, including soups, stews, casseroles, and pastas.  Winter squashes are also a favorite this time of year.  Some varieties like acorn, spaghetti, and butternut are available year-round. Other types are available from late summer to mid-winter.

Winter squashes are a part of many cuisines from all over the world. Think of Italian risottos and Indian curry dishes. In Japanese cooking, kabocha squash is simmered in ginger and soy sauce.  Native American dishes can include a combination of squash, beans, and corn.

Because of their hard rinds, we can store winter squash for up to three months in a cool, dark, dry place.  Knowing what to do with the “shell” of the squash can be a little challenging if you don’t have any first-hand experience to draw from. There are a few different methods, depending on your final presentation of the dish. One way to prepare the squash for cooking is to use a vegetable peeler or a sharp knife to remove the rind.  If you choose this method, for safety, cut off some of the bottom of the squash, so the bottom is flat. That way, the squash will be less likely to wobble when cutting away the tough rind. Squash can also be steamed or roasted whole or halved with the skin on, scooping out the flesh when done.

Winter squashes can also be frozen. To freeze winter squashes, cut the squash into cooking size sections and remove the seeds.  Steam, roast, or pressure cook the squash until done, and a fork inserted comes out easily. Scoop flesh from rind, mash, and put in freezer-safe containers.  Squashes that have more moisture like spaghetti and acorn squash do not freeze as well as other denser and dryer fleshed squashes like butternut, hubbard, kabocha, and pumpkin.

Don’t throw away those seeds!  Roasted seeds are a great snack full of magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc.

They can also be sprinkled on top of salads, soups, and grain dishes. First, rinse the squash seeds in water and remove as much of the pulp as possible. Then, dry them out overnight on a cookie sheet. The next day, spread the seeds in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, sprinkle them with your favorite seasoning, and roast them at 170º for 15-20 minutes.

Winter squashes are a rich source of several vitamins and minerals and an excellent source of carotenoids that provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. They are also an excellent source of Vitamin A to support cell development and eye health, Vitamin C to combat free radicals, fiber for a healthy microbiome, B6 for cell signaling within our nervous system, manganese for collagen production, and copper for energy production support.  Not only are winter squashes high in nutrients, but they are also low in calories – just over 70 calories per cup.

Here are just some of the more popular winter squashes:

Acorn Squash – Mildly sweet and shaped like an acorn.  The skin is green-black with patches of orange. Because the flesh is somewhat watery, acorn squash is best prepared steamed, baked, or mashed.  Sage, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, garlic, and nutmeg are good seasonings to add to this squash.

Butternut Squash –  Has a tan outer skin with orange flesh. Butternut squash can be baked, braised, mashed, or steamed. Selecting a butternut squash with a long neck will give you more flesh than a butternut squash with a shorter neck and larger bulb. Allspice, cinnamon, bay leaf, lemon juice, thyme nutmeg, and sage go well with butternut squash.

Delicata Squash – This cucumber-shaped squash has creamy-colored skin with green stripes. It is one of my favorite squashes because the thin skin is edible – no peeling required! Just cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and slice into half-moons. This is a sweeter, mild-flavored squash that is great roasted but can also be steamed or sautéed. Rosemary, sage, curry powder, cayenne, garam masala all add great flavors to delicata squash.

Blue Hubbard Squash – This tear-drop-shaped squash has absolutely beautiful blue-grey bumpy skin. Its flesh is firm and tastes much like a sweet potato. It is often roasted whole or cut in chunks and steamed, making its thick rind easier to remove after cooking. After cooking, scoop out the flesh and mash or puree it.  Use it in a casserole by mixing the pureed flesh with whole grains or wild rice and baking it. Cinnamon, curry, nutmeg, sage, and chipotle, all pair well with blue hubbard squash.

Spaghetti Squash – This is a fun squash as it is often served as a substitute for spaghetti. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and place cut side down on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan. Roast in the oven until tender. Shred the flesh with a fork to make stringy noodles and top with your favorite pasta sauce.

Kabocha Squash – Has deep green skin with irregular yellow stripes. The flesh is dense and sweet and has more of a squash flavor than butternut or acorn squash.  It can be baked, steamed, or sautéed. Cumin, nutmeg, ginger, garlic, chili flakes are all popular spices to add to kabocha squash.

Mini Pumpkins – These pumpkins are smaller than the Jack-O-Lanterns we carve at Halloween, and they are great baked whole or steamed. Wow your guests with an elaborate presentation at dinner using mini pumpkins. Cut the tops off the pumpkins and scoop out the seeds. Fill with your favorite stuffing, place the cap of the pumpkin back on top, and bake. The baked mini pumpkins can also be used to as a serving vessel for soups and stews. Cranberries, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary, orange zest, and juice are all flavorful additions to mini pumpkins.

Another lovely presentation when serving squash is to slice it horizontally into 1/2” – 3/4” thick rings and remove the seeds. Place the rings on a parchment-lined baking sheet and fill the center of each one with your favorite stuffing. Bake for 1/2 hour at 375º or until squash is tender.

Stuffing ingredients that go well with squashes include apples, cranberries, walnuts, pecans, pepitas, onions, chopped leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, pomegranate seeds, wild rice, cubed bread or grains like couscous, barley, brown or wild rice, quinoa, millet or farro.

Winter squashes can also be prepared very simply by cutting them into 1” slices, sprinkling with seasoning, and baking for about 15 minutes at 375º.

Winter squashes can be a delicious ingredient in many dishes – salads, soups, stews, veggie burgers, risotto, muffins, pies, and puddings.

You can even make dairy-free cheez sauce using squash.

I invite you to try one of the squashes listed that you are not familiar with. Cook it the favorite way you prepare other squashes, or prepare it one of the ways mentioned above. So many varieties, so many methods to cook, so many herb and spice choices, and so many new dishes to try!

Butternut Squash With Whole Wheat, Wild Rice, and Onion Stuffing

This is a recipe I have made for Thanksgiving and it was a big success.  I used mini pumpkins instead of the butternut squash (cut the tops off the mini pumpkins,  scoop out the seeds, bake without the stuffing until you can just pierce the flesh with a fork or knife. Remove from oven, add the stuffing, put the top on the pumpkin, and finish baking).  I also added cooked mushrooms and dried cranberries to the stuffing.  The first baking of the squash or pumpkin can be done ahead of time.  Then just add the stuffing and finish baking.

    • 4 medium-small butternut squashes (about 1 pound each)
    • 3/4 cup raw wild rice, rinsed
    • 2 cups vegetable broth
    • 1 large red onion, chopped
    • 3 to 4 cloves of garlic, minced
    • 2 1/2 cups firmly packed torn whole wheat bread
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 4-6 leaves of fresh sage sliced or 2 to 3 teaspoons dried sage
    • 2 to 3 tablespoons all-purpose seasoning blend*
    • 1 cup fresh orange juice

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375º. Cut squashes in half and scoop out the seeds. Place in a baking dish cut side up that has been lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes or until just pierce the flesh with a fork or knife. You will be baking them with stuffing again later.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the wild rice with the broth in a saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil, then cover and simmer gently until the broth is absorbed, about 40 minutes.
  3. Sauté the onion in a skillet with some vegetable broth or water until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic a cook another 2 minutes.
  4. In a mixing bowl, combine the cooked rice with the sautéed onion and garlic and the remaining ingredients. When the squashes are cool enough to handle, scoop out the pulp, leaving firm shells about 1/2 inch thick. Chop the pulp and stir it into the rice mixture. Stuff the squashes with the mixture.
  5. Place the squashes in a parchment paper or foil-lined baking dish. Bake in a 350º oven for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the squashes, or until fork-tender and well heated through.

* Simply Organic All-Purpose Seasoning and Mrs. Dash Table blend are salt-free seasoning blends.

Recipe adapted from Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas.

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Contributing Guest Writer: Jody Perrecone

Jody Perrecone is a certified nutrition consultant and graduated with honors from Bauman College. She graduated from CHIP (Complete Health Improvement Program) nearly two decades ago and has been an advocate for whole food plant-based nutrition ever since. She has a certification in plant-based nutrition from e-Cornell University and is the founder of Perrecone Wellness. Jody has a passion for helping her clients experience their best life with optimal nutrition and enjoys helping them on their journey. She also conducts WFPB cooking classes and has given numerous wellness presentations over the years to corporations, organizations, and even health food stores. She lives in Rockford, IL with her amazing husband and entertaining cat, Pico.