Winter Squash

Now that fall is here, squash are stealing the spotlight on grocery store shelves. Though officially termed winter squash, the name is a bit misleading because it is typically harvested in the fall, and stores well during the cold winter months.

This versatile veggie can be added to many dishes and prepared in unique ways due to its varying flavors and textures. Squash comes in many varieties, and here are some of our faves:

Butternut Squash
Despite the dull color on the outside, the flesh of butternut squash actually has a vivid orange-yellow hue. It may take a long time to cook, but rest assured - it’s worth the wait! Carefully remove the rind and slice the squash into one-inch cubes. Seasoned with a few tablespoons of olive oil, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt, spread out the cubes on bake pan and pop them in a 425 degree oven for 40 minutes. The result is a mildly sweet, caramelized squash that’s packed with vitamins and minerals. It’s also a prime choice for making satisfying soups because of its naturally creamy consistency when blended into a liquid.

Also called the Japanese pumpkin, kabocha has a nuttier and stronger flavor compared to the milder taste of the butternut squash, but has a similar dense consistency. For this reason, Kabocha makes it a great replacement for butternut squash in many recipes. Simply steam chunks of kabocha until the flesh softens (about 10-15 minutes) to extract the sweetness of the squash and make it a simple yet flavorful side dish even when it is unseasoned.

Spaghetti Squash
As the name implies, this squash has gained popularity for its resemblance and ability to substitute for thin noodles in recipes as a way to include more veggies in meals. To prepare spaghetti squash, simply slice it in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Place both halves face down on a baking dish and add a half-cup of water to help retain moisture when baking. Pop it in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes, then using a fork, scrape the flesh from the sides of the squash and plate these “noodles” with a pasta sauce of your choosing.

The pumpkin (yes - it’s a type of squash!) is a classic sign of autumn. Typically used for making jack-o-lanterns, the pumpkin is most famous on the Thanksgiving table as pumpkin pie. But don’t let the rest of the pumpkin go to waste! Pumpkin seeds can be toasted in a 300 degree oven for 45 minutes as a light and nutritious snack. After scooping out the seeds from the pumpkin, rinse them in a colander under running water to detach any remaining flesh from the seeds. Pat dry with a paper towel. For a punch of flavor, toss the seeds in a tablespoon of melted butter and a pinch of garlic salt before popping them in the oven. Other variations include drizzling the seeds with extra virgin olive oil before toasting, or seasoning with salt and grated herbs.

Esther Chen is a fourth year student studying clinical nutrition at University of California, Davis. She hopes to complete a dietetic internship and become a registered dietitian.

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