A low-calorie, nutrient-dense comfort food – squash is by far the super-food of the fall! Squash is one of our most colorful vegetables, and its shades reflect the beauty of the autumn season. The tough outside skin of the squash, the rind, can be red, orange, white, green, blue or gray, and the dense, mealy center of the squash, often referred to as the ‘flesh’ or ‘meat’, can be pale yellow to deep orange in color. But the yellows and oranges inside squash do more than just look pretty. Their color actually comes from the presence of cancer-fighting carotenoids within – just one of the many reasons squash is fantastically nutritious!
Most varieties of squash are also good or excellent sources of Vitamin C and Vitamin A, meaning they contain 10-25% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for an adult per day. One serving of squash is 1 cup, or about the size of a woman’s fist or tennis ball.
Types of Squash
Squash can be sliced and roasted, then chopped or pureed, depending on variety. Not sure how to use your seasonal squash? Read on!
Zucchini- Light or dark green in color, zucchini is a versatile, non-starchy vegetable that can grow as large as a baseball bat. Can be steamed, boiled, grilled or baked. Shred zucchini and spray a skillet with a small amount of cooking oil for a zucchini-fritter side dish!
Yellow- Yellow Squash can be cooked and served similarly to zucchini. Try grating summer squash and substituting it for ¼ or ½ of the pasta in your favorite meal or side dish. Summer squash has a very mild flavor, so it works well as a “secret” ingredient in dishes to bump up the nutrients!
Acorn– Slice in half and roast. The skin is edible (but a little chewy!) Use as a bowl for apples, dried fruit, wild rice, nuts or butternut squash.
Butternut– This sweet and nutty variety is delicious when pureed into soups or served as a side dish. It is easy to peel and can be cut into cubes to roast or steam. Add cinnamon or mix with balsamic vinegar or dried fruit. See Slow Cooker Butternut Squash and Apple Soup Recipe below.
Calabaza- Also called ‘West Indian Pumpkin,’ this squash is commonly seen in the Caribbean and can have a light brown, green, red or orange rind. In terms of flavor, it bears similarity to butternut squash – but its difference is that its tough, thick rind requires a butcher’s knife or cleaver to split.
Delicata- An heirloom variety with a sweet and creamy texture, similar to a sweet potato. Peel is thin and edible. To eat, try roasting or stuffing it.
Hubbard- Can weigh between 8-20lbs and vary widely in color from orange to gray or blue. It has a bumpy thick rind that hides its sweet and savory inner meat. Best prepared when pureed or mashed due to its sometimes mealy flesh.
Kobocha- This Japanese variety with pale orange meat and a touch of sweetness tends to be dry and dense. It can be sliced and roasted, steamed or pureed.
Pumpkin- A well-known favorite, pumpkin is a versatile ingredient that can be made into soups, baked goods (sweet bread, muffins, pies), risotto and pancakes. Look for smaller varieties such as Small Sugar, New England Pie, Baby Pam and Pik-A-Pie that contain less water. Roast, steam and puree before adding to recipes.
Spaghetti Squash– Slice in half and roast – meat should separate easily with a fork, into ‘spaghetti’-like strings. Has a very mild taste and works great as a substitute for pasta.
How to Cook Squash
First, brush lightly with olive oil or margarine and season as desired (oregano, pepper, garlic powder, basil or even sweet spices like ginger or cinnamon work great!). For your next step, you have a few options:
- Microwave: put in a shallow glass dish or pie pan and with ½ inch water and cook 30 min on high, rotating half-way through (15 min.)
- Oven: Cook at 400⁰F for 20-30 min for thin-skinned squash (ex. butternut) or 30-45 min for thick-skinned squash (ex. pumpking), flesh should be easily poked by a fork.
- Stove: Slice squash in rings or small chunks, removing skin. Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat and spray or lightly coat pan with olive oil. Cook squash until golden brown and easily poked with a fork.
- Other ideas: Add to kebabs and grill, shred and add to pasta or casserole dishes or throw on top of salads.
When cut, squash may be refridgerated (uncooked) for up to 1 week. Leftover cooked squash should be eaten in 2-3 days.
How to Freeze Squash
Whole, uncut squash can be kept in a cool, dry place for 4-8 months. Try freezing pre-cut squash ahead of time to cut down on preparation time and make it easier to add to recipes.
- Wash squash under cool running water, using a gentle vegetable brush or dishwrap if dirt is visible.
- Using a sharp butcher knife, cut squash in half and then cut the halves in half again (quarters.)
- Scoop out the seeds and soft, sticky inside of the squash using a large metal spoon or ice cream scoop.
- Cook the squash (see above.)
- Remove skin and chop into quarter-inch pieces OR scoop out squash flesh and puree.
- Put in plastic containers or bags, date and freeze. Frozen squash can be kept for up to 1 year.
Slow Cooker Butternut Squash and Apple Soup*
Prep ingredients in the evening, add to a slow cooker and plug in before leaving for the day. You will come home to a nutritious, savory meal- all ready to go!
1 1/2 lbs butternut squash (about 1 average squash), cut into 1″ pieces
1 1/2 lbs red-skin potatoes, cut into 1″ cubes
1 large apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cans vegetable broth (about 4 cups)
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in the crock of your slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 5-6 hours or high 2-3 hours, until potatoes and squash are tender. Serves four.
- Make your squash and apple soup more savory by adding a teaspoon of curry powder.
- Sweeten your recipe by substituting apple juice for half of the vegetable broth.
- Turn the soup into a heartier entree by adding vegetarian sausage or turkey sausage that has been briefly browned in a skillet.
Pumpkin Leek Soup*
Another tasty soup recipe that’s sure to please!
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks (white and light green parts), sliced 1/4 inch thick and rinsed
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 medium pumpkin or 1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
kosher salt and pepper
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin cubes and canned puree, then the broth. Simmer until the pumpkin is tender, about 25 minutes. Stir in 1¾ teaspoons salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
- Working in batches, ladle the soup into a blender and puree until smooth. Divide among individual bowls and top with the rosemary.
Creamy Garlic Spaghetti Squash
Serve as a side dish with baked chicken breasts, crusty whole grain bread and your favorite vegetable for a balanced, hearty meal.
1 medium/large spaghetti squash, cooked and shredded (see below)
2 shallots, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
¾ to 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
¼ to 1/3 cup fat free half and half
½ cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese (whichever you have on hand)
2 T fresh parsley (you can also use dried if you have it; 1 T)
Salt and Pepper to taste
- You can prepare the spaghetti squash by either baking, cut side down at 350 for 45 minutes OR microwaving, cut side down for 10-12 minutes. Cool so you are able to hold it, remove seeds (I like scooping out with a ice cream scoop!) and then using a fork, shred the squash.
- Spray a large sauté pan with non-stick spray or Misto. Over medium heat, sauté the shallots and garlic until shallots soften; about 5 minutes.
- Add the shredded squash and stir; add salt and pepper if you wish.
- Add the half and half and mix.
- Finally, add the cheese and parsley and mix.
Squash Picture, CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 ()], via Wikimedia Commons
Pumpkin Leek Soup. Real Simple Magazine. October 2007. Accessed 3 September 2014.
Kelly, Elizabeth. Slow Cooker Butternut Squash and Apple Soup Recipe. The Examiner. 11 October 2009. Accessed 3 September 2014.
A Healthy Makeover: Creamy Garlic Spaghetti Squash. Blogger. 6 December 2012. Accessed 3 September 2014.
http://www.pickyourown.org/freezing_wintersquash.htm Accessed 6 October 2014.