You can cook small winter squash by piercing several times with a fork or other sharp instrument and baking whole. Piercing prevents the shell from bursting during cooking. Place the pierced squash in an oven-safe dish and bake at 325 degrees for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Test for doneness by squeezing the shell. When it gives with pressure, it is done.
You can also bake winter squash in the microwave. Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds and place cut side down in a microwave-safe dish. Cover with waxed paper and cook at 100 percent until the squash is fork tender. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the cooked squash, add seasonings as desired, and stir until smooth. This can be prepared in advance and reheated when wanted.
You can prepare pumpkin by the same methods as other winter squashes or you can try one of the following ideas:
Prepare your pumpkin by cutting around the top to make a lid. Use the stem as a handle for the lid. Scrape out the seeds and pulp and brush the sides with melted butter, margarine or olive oil. You can then sprinkle with sugar or salt if desired. Put the lid back on the pumpkin and bake in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. Give the inside another coat of butter, margarine or oil and the seasoning of your choice and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until the flesh is tender. Slice the pumpkin into wedges and serve.
A stuffed pumpkin makes a great one-dish meal. Start by cutting the top off and scooping out the seeds and pulp. Stuff the pumpkin with your favorite casserole dish that contains cooked meat and vegetables. The meat and vegetable mixture should be placed in the pumpkin while it is still hot. Place the pumpkin on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 1 to 3 hours depending on the size of the pumpkin. When the pumpkin is done, the inside flesh of the pumpkin will be fork tender.
Any type of mashed or pureed squash can be used in the place of canned pumpkin in soups, pies, cookies or quick breads. Chunks of squash can be added to soups, stews and casseroles. Winter squash can also be mixed with onions, garlic and herbs as a side dish or mixed with other vegetables such as corn, tomatoes and bell pepper for a tasty dish.
Winter squash are a good source of potassium and vitamin A. They also contain vitamin C, folic acid, pantothenic acid and copper. One-half cup of cooked squash provides only 40 calories.
Winter squash and pumpkins should be stored in a cool dry place and with their hard skins will keep for several months without spoiling.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.