Preparing Winter Squash
How to Cook Winter Squash
Quick and Healthy Winter Melon Recipes
The most popular winter squash includes acorn, buttercup, butternut, calabaza, delicata, Hubbard, spaghetti, sweet dumpling, and Terk's Turban.
Herbs and spices used to enhance the flavor of winter squash include garlic, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, basil, parsley and a pinch of ground cloves. Sweeten squash pulp with maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, or orange juice concentrate.
Nutritional Value and Health Benefits of Winter Squash
Winter squash is a tasty source of complex carbohydrate (natural sugar and starch) and fiber. Fiber, which was once called roughage, absorbs water and becomes bulky in the stomach. It works throughout the intestinal track, cleaning and moving waste quickly out of the body. Research suggests that this soluble fiber plays an important role in reducing the incidence of colon cancer.
Winter squash is also a source of potassium, niacin, iron and beta carotene. The orange-fleshed squash is also an excellent source of beta carotene. As a general rule, the deeper the orange color, the higher the beta carotene content. Beta carotene is converted to Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A being essential for healthy skin, vision, bone development and maintenance as well as many other functions.
The nutrient content of winter squash varies, depending on the variety. The following information is a summary of all varieties, cooked, baked and cubed.
1 cup cooked, cubes
- Calories: 79.95
- Protein: 1.82 grams
- Carbohydrate: 17.94 grams
- Dietary Fiber: 5.74 grams
- Calcium: 28.7 mg
- Iron: 0.67 mg
- Potassium: 895.85 mg
- Folate: 57.40 mcg
- Vitamin A: 7,291.85
Preparation and Serving
Peeling winter squash can be a challenge to the novice. The thin-skinned varieties (acorn, butternut, delicata and sweet dumpling) can be peeled with a paring knife or vegetable peeler.
Most recipes using these varieties call for cutting the squash in half.
- Position the squash on a cutting board, stem end facing you.
- Place the blade of a heavy chef's knife horizontally along the length of the squash.
- With a hammer or mallet, repeatedly hit the back of the blade near the handle to drive it into the squash until it breaks in half.
Place the larger varieties (Hubbard and Turk's Turban) on newspaper and use a sharp cleaver to split the hard-rind open.
Once you have a slit cut, bang on a hard surface and pull apart. Pieces are easier to peel.
- With a spoon, scoop out the seeds and strings and discard, or set aside if you plan to roast the seeds.
To cook winter squash, place unpeeled pieces cut sides down on a shallow baking dish and bake in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes or longer.
- Check for doneness by piercing with a fork or skewer.
- When tender, remove from the oven and allow the pieces to cool.
- Spoon out the soft flesh and mash with a fork or process in a blender or food processor.
- Peeled pieces can be cut into cubes and boiled until tender.
- Use with any recipe calling for cooked mashed or pureed squash, or microwave the squash pieces on high for 15 minutes or longer.
Small acorn squash and spaghetti squash can be pierced in several places with a long-tined fork or metal skewer and baked whole. Piercing prevents the shell from bursting during cooking.
- Place the squash on a baking dish and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours at 325°F.
- Test for doneness by squeezing the shell. When it gives a bit with pressure, it is done.
Store whole winter squash in an area where temperatures range from 45 to 50°F for three to six months. At room temperature reduce storage time to one and a half to three months depending on variety. See the selection and storage information above.
Cooked squash freezes well. Pack into freezer containers or freezer bags leaving 1/2 inch head space and freeze for up to one year. Canning is not recommended unless the squash is cut into cubes.
Mashed squash is too dense and heat penetration is uneven. Because spaghetti squash does not stay cubed on heating, it should be frozen instead of canned. For all other varieties, follow the procedure and processing times outlined in canning pumpkin. Read more about preserving winter squash.