What do butternut squash soup, acorn squash with cranberry stuffing and healthy Italian spaghetti squash have in common? They all showcase types of squash commonly available from late summer through the mid-winter months, hence the name winter squash. Winter squash differs from summer squash due to the season when it’s harvested, but it’s also generally sweeter, denser, more firm in texture and eaten after the outer skin has hardened. If you’re on a diet, winter squash is a great low-cal option, packed with complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamins A, B6 and C, manganese, folate and loads of antioxidants.
While each type of winter squash is unique, the purchase and storage of all varieties is basically the same. Always choose a firm squash with no blemishes, bruises or soft spots. The skin should be dull, not glossy. The stem should be intact and the squash should feel heavy for its size. To prepare, the skin is usually removed with a knife or vegetable peeler, then the squash is cut in half and the seeds and fibers scooped out—although it can also be baked whole. One of the great advantages of winter squash is its long shelf life, if stored properly. Store it whole in a cool, dry and well-ventilated space between 45 and 50 degrees. Once cut, cover tightly with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. Baked or steamed squash can be frozen for later use in soups, like these butternut squash soup recipes, casseroles, breads, muffins and pies.
Here’s a brief overview of some of the most common varieties of winter squash. And don’t forget this handy cooking tip: You can substitute any sweet, orange-fleshed variety of winter squash for another.
Acorn squash is small and round and has a dull, dark green rind with orange markings. Avoid choosing a squash with too much orange—they tend to be tougher and more fibrous. (Golden varieties of acorn squash are also available but not as common.) The flesh is yellow-orange with a mild sweet and nutty flavor that’s perfect for baking, roasting, steaming, sautéing or even microwaving (be sure to pierce the skin first). Because of its compact size, acorn squash can be halved and stuffed for recipes like Turkey Sausage-Stuffed Acorn Squash. It’s also tasty in savory dishes like Pork Chops & Acorn Squash or sweetened up in Maple-Glazed Acorn Squash. Store acorn squash for up to one month.
This squat, compact squash is green with light green stripes and has a distinctive round ridge on the bottom. Its bright orange, somewhat dry flesh is very mild in flavor and much sweeter than most varieties. Buttercup squash is best steamed or baked, and it works well in curry dishes. The skin is inedible and can be difficult to peel, but the squash can be baked first and then the flesh scooped out for use in recipes like Buttercup Squash Coffee Cake. This squash also makes for a great variation on mashed sweet potatoes. Store whole buttercup squash for up to three months.
Not to be confused with buttercup squash, pear-shaped butternut squash has a creamy, pale orange exterior with a slim neck and a bulbous, bell-shaped bottom, which houses the seeds. Its orangey-yellow flesh tastes similar to sweet potato and isn’t stringy, making it a good choice for pureeing and using in soups like Chipotle Butternut Squash Soup. (The more orange the exterior, the riper, drier and sweeter the flesh will be.) It’s easiest to use if you cut it into two sections and handle the neck and bulb separately. The skin is fairly easy to peel, and the skin and seeds are edible. Whole butternut squash will keep for up to three months when stored properly.
*Winter Squash recipes courtesy of Taste of Home.com