The winter weather can be very difficult for some individuals to handle and get used to. But the change of weather often signifies the start of the holidays, which brings with it the use of a new roster of fresh fall ingredients to work with. One of the most popular ingredients of the season is winter squash.
Squash is basically synonymous with winter. Although many varieties of winter squash are grown all through the year, these highly nutritious plants are generally planted through the warmer months but harvesting does not occur until the first frost. When harvested during the fall, cooks are treated to different types of squashes that can then be stored in cool and dry conditions that can then be enjoyed throughout the late fall and winter.
All About Winter Squash
Winter squash is a great source of nutrients such as beta-carotene, fibre, vitamin C, potassium among other nutrients, and they are an excellent source of protein and minerals like magnesium. The seeds of winter squash can also be roasted or dried alternatively to make great snacks.
Cooking with winter squash
Although highly nutritious, winter squash is not the easiest of ingredients to master especially for beginners owing to its hard exterior. The thick and tough protective skin is what allows squashes to remain preserved for so long. When well preserved, winter squash can last anywhere between 6 weeks to 8 months depending on the preservation method that is utilized.
Winter squash is a convenient and healthy vegetable that can effortlessly be incorporated into soups and meaty stews, can be mixed in with grains and into salads, tarts, or simply consumed on its own as a side dish. The versatility of winter squash is why it can be used interchangeably in different recipes.
Once you figure out how to eliminate the thick protective skin, winter squash is actually fairly straightforward to cook with. Squash can be pressure cooked, roasted, simmered, baked, sautéed or even fried. When prepared, squash has a sweet, nutty or delicately bland taste, which allows it to be used in numerous recipes. The flesh of winter squash can be enjoyed in sweet dishes while bland ones can be sweetened using spices and herbs to add a more robust flavour.
How to pick winter squash
Because of the tough protective exterior, it is impossible to test the ripeness of winter squash simply by the touch. To remove the skin from winter squash, scrub the surface clean and use a serrated knife to cut through.
There are several guidelines that you can utilize to pick the best winter squash for use. When picking squash, you should be on the lookout for the condition of the exterior. Bumps and any discolouration on the skin should not be a problem but you should avoid any squashes that are bruised, have soft spots or contain mould on the surface.
You should always pick a squash that feels too heavy for its size and when you do, ensure that you store it in a dark, dry, cool and well-ventilated area. Winter squashes that are hollow like pumpkins can look really large even when they are not, which means that they will produce a lot less flesh than expected.
If you are buying your winter squash from the market, you will have a wide array to choose from but squash is very similar so if you have ever used one type of winter squash, working with a different variety should not give you much trouble.
The various types of winter squash
Butternut squash is the most popular of all squashes. It has a tan exterior and is usually long and bell-shaped. Because the exterior of butternut squash is not as hard as all the rest, it can be peeled with ease, cubed and then prepared in a range of ways including boiling, steaming, baking and even deep roasting. Butternut squash typically has a sweet but nutty taste and pairs well with herbs like sage. When selecting one, you should go for one that produces a hollow sound when you knock on it.
Acorn squash is another popular variety of winter squash and is one of the sweetest types that you will find. Acorn squash is usually round with groves or ridges all over the exterior. Acorn squash usually has a dark green surface with orange and yellow blemishes. The skin of acorn squashes can be tough to peel off but when done, the flesh separates quickly after preparation. Acorn squash can be cooked with the skin on or removed completely depending on what you are going for or what your recipe calls for.
Kabocha is used primarily as an ingredient in Japanese meals and recipes. Kabocha has dark green and dry skin that appears tough but is actually edible when cooked thoroughly. It can produce a starchy flavour unless it is cooked for extended periods to make it sweeter. Kabocha is typically simmered or steamed to add a little moisture to the dryness. Kabocha can also be pureed, but the skin has to be removed for this to occur.
When the flesh of spaghetti squash is cooked, it produces translucent strands that resemble pasta. As such, spaghetti squash is used to replace pasta, which is ideal for anyone that has a gluten allergy. When prepared, the flesh pulls away easily to create the strands. Spaghetti squash usually has a bland flavour, which is why it is often accompanied by flavourful sauces, herbs and spices. Spaghetti squash also has a thin exterior, which means that it cannot be kept for long without spoiling.
Delicata squash is a small oblong shaped squash whose surface bears bright yellow, orange and dark green stripes. Delicata squash has thin skin that is also edible but the flesh is sweet, nutty and a bit drier than many other varieties of squash. Delicata squash tastes great when roasted or when mixed with butter and maple syrup to add a level of sweetness.
Hubbard squash is one of the largest types of winter squash. It usually comes with different coloured skins that range from dark green and orange to greyish skin. The skin is typically tough and hard to peel off, which means that it can be preserved for long. Hubbard squash has a taste that resembles pumpkin closely.