All About Squash
Squash is also packed with key nutrients and contains 90 calories per cup, cooked. What’s in it? It’s rich in:
- Fiber (a whopping 6g!)
- Vitamin C, which helps maintain healthy gums
- Vitamin A, which helps promote healthy eyes
- A good source of folic acid, which helps maintain red blood cells
Squash is a member of the Cucurbita family, as are gourds and cucumbers. Home gardeners love squash because it makes them look like they have a green thumb without much effort, but the plants require space to spread out. If you want to grow squash and space is at a premium, let the vines trail up a fence or vertical frame.
And when it comes to varieties of squash, they're almost endless. Its outside color ranges from dark green, as in acorn squash, to tan or pale yellow. On the inside, some varieties have a golden glow while others are brilliant orange.
Winter squash is usually available from October to March. Look for hard-skinned squash with no blemishes or bruises. Choose those that are heavy for their size, indicating that the flesh is fresh, moist and dense. Skin color varies with the variety, but texture should be firm and smooth. Flesh color can be brilliant orange, yellow or green.
Squash is one veggie whose flavor actually improves when stored. Choose a cool, dry place for storage. A basement is perfect. Left uncut and whole in a cool place, 50 to 60°F, fresh squash keeps for a few weeks.
Most winter squash have dense yellow or orange flesh. Some varieties are sweeter than others, but texture is usually the most important difference. Some squash, like butternut, cook up creamy and smooth while others, like pumpkin and acorn squash, can be a bit stringy, or fibrous but they contain more water so they're quite moist when cooked.
These are the most common of the dozens of varieties grown:
- Acorn – Weighing in at 1 or 2 pounds, acorn is easily recognized by its dark green color (sometimes covered with orange patches) and deep ridges. When cooked, its flesh is yellowish-orange and it can be a bit watery inside.
- Buttercup – Dark green and round, the flesh is orange and very sweet, similar to a butternut. Buttercup usually weighs around 3 pounds. Kabocha squash are very similar to buttercup.
- Butternut – Ranging in size from about 2 to 5 pounds, the light tan skin peels easily. Chunks of butternut are often used in soups, casseroles or skillet dishes. Its bright orange flesh is dense and creamy and it has a sweet, delicate flavor. These are available most of the year.
- Delicata – Often weighing less than 1 pound, delicata is a small, elongated squash with yellow or cream-colored skin streaked with green dark strips. Its flesh is yellow with a fine, creamy texture. Sometimes it’s known as “sweet potato squash.”
- Hubbard – The thick, bumpy skin is an unusual bluish-gray or gray color but the flesh is smooth and orange with a sweet flavor. Traditional varieties weigh as much as 10 pounds, although a new hybrid comes in at 3 or 4 pounds.
- Spaghetti – Smooth yellow skin, they look like overgrown footballs. The pale gold flesh turns into long, stringy fibers that resemble pasta.
Don't be daunted by a squash's hard exterior. Just follow these easy steps:
- Cutting – Use a heavy chef's knife or cleaver to cut squash in half; remove the stringy fibers and seeds in the center before cooking. Cut long squash like butternut in half lengthwise, from narrow end to narrow end. Use a large spoon to scrape out the strings and seeds.
- Peeling – Ridged squash, like acorn is much too hard to peel before cooking; it's best to cook these squash with the skin on, then scoop out the flesh after cooking. Smooth-skinned squash, like butternut, can be peeled with a vegetable peeler or paring knife. The thin tan skin comes off in one stroke, revealing the bright orange color beneath.
- Baking – If you are baking squash by itself, turn cut halves down in baking pan. Add 1 tablespoon water and bake 45 minutes at 375°F or until tender when pierced with fork. To prepare with other veggies or on its own, cut into 1 or 2-inch chunks and bake at 375°F for 40 minutes or until tender when poked with a fork and lightly browned.
The sweet, yet robust flavor and tender texture of squash lends itself to so many preparations. Try it grilled, cooked and mashed, roasted, sliced or cut into smaller chunks as an ingredient in gratins, stews and soups, casseroles and skillet dishes or sautéed.