Winter Squash: A Deliciously Sweet Nutrient Powerhouse

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Looking for ways to add more fruits and vegetables into your meals this winter season? 

Winter squash is not only gourd-geous but a delicious way to liven up your meals during the cooler months of the year. These tough on the outside, sweet on the inside squash make a nutritious and tasty addition to the table. Packed with beta-carotene, vitamin C, potassium and fiber, these squash can add sweetness to many dishes without the need for added sugar. 

Roasted cubes of butternut squash

Here are some of the more popular winter squashes you may see at your farmers’ market or grocery store:

Butternut 

Tall, pear-shaped squash with a cream-colored smooth skin and a sweet tasting bright orange flesh. A roasted butternut squash recipe is included below. This squash also makes an excellent, creamy soup.

Acorn

Dark green, ridged squash with orange-yellow flesh that is less sweet than            butternut squash and has more seeds to scoop out which creates a bowl                  perfect for a savory filling of your choice. Usually weighing-in between one to two pounds, acorn squash are smaller than most other winter squash varieties.

Kabocha

Round and squat with dark green skin that is often coarse with small lumps or bumps. The flesh is yellow-orange and one of the more sweet varieties. This squash is fondly referred to as the “Japanese pumpkin”, as it is the star of a classic savory Japanese dish. 

Spaghetti

Cylindrical in shape with an exterior that ranges in color from cream to bright yellow. When cooked, the flesh develops strands that resemble spaghetti. Mild and delicate in taste and lower in sweetness compared to other winter squashes. Try out the colorful recipe for spaghetti squash shared below. 

Delicata

Small and cylindrical with green stripes on cream or yellow skin. This small winter squash has a thin, edible skin and is called “sweet potato squash” by some due to its flavor profile resembling the popular root vegetable.

Unlike summer squash, winter squash is harvested in the fall and can be stored and enjoyed throughout most of the winter. Look for squash that has a firm exterior and is free from holes or cracks. Winter squash can generally be stored in a cool, dry space for 2-3 months although some flavor may be lost the longer the squash is stored. 

Preparation Tips

Wash: Always wash the outside of the squash, giving it a light scrub under running water. Bacteria may hide in the crevices or on the skin of the squash so giving it a light scrub will prevent the spread of the bacteria to the inside of the squash when cut.

Microwave: A great way to make the peeling or slicing process a bit easier is to pierce the squash a few times with a fork around the outside and place in the microwave for 3-5 minutes. The squash is then ready to be peeled, sliced or cubed, and cooked. 

Roasting: To get a delicious caramelization of the sugars in winter squash, place your halved, sliced, or chopped squash onto a baking sheet with a little oil to prevent sticking and bake at 425 degree F. The time will depend on the size of the cut squash. This is a great way to prepare winter squash and you can add your favorite spices and herbs before roasting.

Using the slow cooker or Instant Pot: You may want to skip peeling your squash and simply slice in half, remove the seeds and place in a slow cooker or instant pot for a quick, hands-off and oven-off preparation. Generally 4-5 hours on high for a slow cooker and 25 minutes at high pressure in an Instant Pot with a cup of water. Once the squash is cooked through, scoop the flesh out and add to your recipe. This method is great for making soups or adding to baked goods.

Recipes

Cinnamon and Rosemary Roasted Butternut Squash

Ingredients

  • 1 large butternut squash (about 3 pounds, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes)
  • 2 Tbl. Olive oil
  • 1 tsp. Salt 
  • 1 tsp. Ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp Dried rosemary
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper

Preparation

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degree F. 
  • Peel and cut squash in half to remove seeds and strings. Cube the squash.
  • In a large bowl, combine squash, oil, pepper, cinnamon, dried rosemary, and salt. Stir to coat the squash.
  • Spread squash onto an oiled baking dish and bake for 15 minutes. 
  • Toss squash and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes longer.
  • Remove from the oven when squash is tender and slightly caramelized on the edges. Enjoy!

Notes:  Squash can be cubed a day in advance. Just store cubes in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Reheat this dish in a skillet or in the oven at 350 F to maintain the texture. Microwave is also an option but texture will be different.

Southwestern Spaghetti Squash

Ingredients

  • 1 whole spaghetti squash
  • ½ Tbl. Olive oil
  • ½ Tbl. Cumin
  • ½ Tbl. Chili powder
  • ¼ tsp. Turmeric powder
  • ¼ tsp. Salt
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 small tomatoes, chopped (like roma or campari)
  • 15 oz frozen corn
  • 1 can black beans (15 oz can)
  • 1 can diced green chilies (4.5 oz can)
  • 1 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese or similar
  • ½ a bunch of cilantro (optional)

Preparation

  • Preheat oven to 400 F
  • To prepare squash- wash, cut in half, remove seeds and strings.
  • Coat the cut sides of the squash with oil and place the cut sides down onto an oiled baking pan. 
  • Bake squash for about 40 minutes or until a fork will easily pierce through.*
  • Let squash cool, then use a fork to shred the inside of the squash into “noodles” and place into a large bowl. Save the squash shells or skin to hold the mixture.
  • Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl except for the cheese and cilantro.
  • Fill the squash shells with the mixture and top with cheese.
  • Set the oven to broil and broil the two filled halves for about 2 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
  • Remove from the oven and top with cilantro if desired.

Notes: Enjoy warm or room temperature for best flavor. Get creative with the ingredients! Try chopped chicken or tofu for added protein. Maybe try adding red onion to the mix. Choose avocado or salsa as toppings.

Written By

Tara Gregory, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionTara GregoryExtension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences Call Tara E-mail Tara N.C. Cooperative Extension, Chatham County Center
Updated on Dec 17, 2020
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