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Winter squash - a healthful addition to fall menus

October 23, 2012|Lynn Little

Its fall and the season for including winter squash in your menus. Winter squash are easy to prepare and a healthy addition to any meal.

Winter squash is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and fiber. Fat free, cholesterol free and sodium free, a 1/2 cup of cooked winter squash only has 40 calories.

Unlike summer squash, winter squash are picked when they are fully mature. They have a thick, inedible skin that provides protective covering and allows for a long, storage life. Winter squash can be stored for three months or longer in a cool, dry place, preferably in a single layer.

 When purchasing winter squash, look for the ones that are firm and heavy for their size, free of soft spots and have a dull sheen. A shiny skin indicates the squash is not fully mature. Don't choose those that are sunken or have moldy spots. 

Along with pumpkin, the three most common winter squash are butternut, spaghetti and acorn squash. Butternut squash is tan and has a long, bell-like shape. Spaghetti squash is yellow and oval or oblong in shape. Acorn squash, which has its name because it is actually shaped like an acorn, is dark green and has a ridged rind or skin.

All winter squash bake well. Cut the squash in half, using a heavy-duty sharp knife.  Scoop out the seeds and brush the cut surface with oil. Place the cut side down in a baking dish with 1/4 cup of water. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees until the flesh is soft. Once baked and cooled, the squash can be peeled and cut into cubes for use in soups, stews and casseroles along with other vegetables.

To boil or stem winter squash wash and cut the squash into quarters or smaller pieces, peeling and removing seeds.  Boil or steam the squash in a small amount of water for 25 to 35 minutes or until tender. 

Winter squash can be used interchangeably in recipes with the exception of Spaghetti squash. Once it is cooked, use a fork to peel the flesh away from the skin. It looks just like spaghetti as it peels away. You can serve it with pasta sauce just like you would spaghetti.

Puree roasted or steamed squash and use it as a sauce over pasta. Mix thinly sliced squash strips with whole-wheat noodles and cook according to the package. 

Thinly slice acorn or butternut squash, add a little cinnamon, ginger or nutmeg and steam or microwave for a low-calorie side dish.

Cube winter squash and add to other vegetables (parsnips, carrots, potatoes and onions). Coat lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and roast in the oven until the vegetables are fork tender. Roast or sauté diced pumpkin with diced squash and/or sweet potatoes. 

Cut an acorn or butternut squash in half, remove the seeds and stuff with your favorite meatloaf recipe.

Go to www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org and search for recipes using winter squash. Or check out recipefinder.nal.usda.gov for low-cost recipes using winter squash.  



Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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