Winter Squash 101



Local BC hard-shell winter squash are in season and it’s time to start cooking. There are several varieties you will find at the grocery store such as Buttercup, Butternut, Acorn, Spaghetti and Banana squash.

The hard rinds are inedible but the soft flesh inside is edible and full of nutrients. Winter squash are rich in beta-carotene which gives them the orange colour and Butternut squash contains the most. Beta-carotene is involved in immune function, healthy skin, mucous membranes and eye health. Squash are also sources of potassium and magnesium, 2 electrolytes involved in maintaining a healthy blood pressure. Winter squash are a source of lutein, a nutrient known to help reduce the risk of macular degeneration and they have a low Glycemic Index which make them a good option for people with Type II Diabetes. Spaghetti squash is the lowest in calories and carbohydrates but also tends to be the lowest in nutrients.


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Serving Size: 1 cup raw cubed


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Acorn Squash are shaped like an acorn, with deep furrows. The rind is green to yellow-gold and the flesh is yellow with a slightly sweet flavour and dry consistency. Acorn squash are delicious baked and stuffed with ground meat and rice or other vegetables and herbs.


Banana Squash are large, cylindrical-shaped squash with pointed ends. They have a hard, creamy yellow-orange rind and orange inside. They are delicious baked with brown sugar and butter or can be steamed, pureed and blended into muffin or creamy coconut curry recipes.


Buttercup Squash are flat, round squash with a turban shaped top. The hard rind is dark green with some gray flecks or stripes. Their orange flesh is slightly sweet with a somewhat dry consistency like acorn squash. To prepare buttercup squash cup it in half just beside the stem, use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Cut the half in half again and roast the quarters. Alternatively, to cut into cubes, peel the half squash with a vegetable peeler, slice the half into 1 cm thick slices and then dice the slices. Use in risotto, rice pilaf, roasted vegetable dishes and curries.


Butternut Squash, my personal favorite, is a large elongated bell or pear-shaped squash with a hard tan coloured rind and yellow-orange flesh. The rind is quite hard so if you can’t peel it with your vegetable peeler you may need to use a paring knife. You can also find already peeled and diced butternut squash in the produce section of your grocery store or frozen. Use butternut squash for soups and roasted vegetable dishes.


Spaghetti Squash are large, oblong-shaped squash with yellow, semi-hard rind. The yellow flesh inside is stringy and separates into spaghetti like strands after it is cooked.


Turban Squash have a vivid orange rind striped with cream, green or white and a turban shape. They are anywhere from 2-15cm in diameter, the rind is bumpy and flavour is bland. Turban squash are often used for decoration or as a soup tureen.


Buying Squash

Look for squash that are heavy for their size, with a hard rind and intact skin with no bruises, cuts or dents. The rind should be dull not shiny.


Storing Squash

Keep squash in a cool dry place for short term storage and do not store them near ethylene producing fruit such as apples, pears and avocado.


Preparing squash        

Cut or peel off the rind and cut squash into cubes to roast, boil, steam or stir fry. Keep water used in boiling for soup base. It is cooked when tender when pierced with a fork. Boil 7-9 minutes, steam 6-7 minutes,

Baking: Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Bake in oven uncovered at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Cooked when easily pierced with fork

Microwave ½ the squash for 10-12 minutes


Seasoning: Delicious spices to add to butternut squash or acorn squash include: Allspice, anise seed, brown sugar, butter, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, ginger, mace, nutmeg, paprika, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme and turmeric


Spaghetti squash preparation

The flesh of spaghetti squash, when cooked, comes out like strands of cooked spaghetti and makes a great light stand-in for pasta lovers.Prepare squash by cutting in half lengthwise and removing the seeds. Pierce the skin several times with a fork and follow one of the cooking methods below.   BAKING: Prepare the squash and place, cut side down, in a large baking pan. Bake squash at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until the skin is tender and strands may be loosened easily with a fork.   MICROWAVING: Prepare the squash, and place, cut side down, in a baking dish. Add 1/4 cup water; cover with plastic wrap, folding back a small edge of wrap to allow steam to escape. Cook on HIGH 7 to 10 minutes.   BOILING: Prepare the squash, and place, cut side down, in a Dutch oven, add water to a depth of 2 inches. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 to 25 minutes or until tender. Drain.   Cool cooked squash. Using a fork, remove spaghetti-like strands of pulp. Discard shell.Yield: 1 medium spaghetti squash yields about 4 cups cooked squash.


Toss with a tomato sauce and it is ready to eat. You can serve it with olive oil and parmesan cheese or get creative and do Greek squash with plum tomatoes, feta, onion and olives.


Health Canada recommends eating one green and one orange vegetable each day so for a change from carrots and yams, try some winter squash.

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