Winter Squash is Great for Decorating but Best for Healthy Eating!

By Marsha Hudnall on 10/01/2009
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Today’s post is courtesy of Lisa Fennimore, our fabulously-talented sous and pastry chef at Green Mountain.  We’re so happy she agreed to blog for us occasionally. We’re sure you’ll agree once you start reading her wonderful take on healthy eating.

Squash1It’s that time of year again, when wood smoke begins to scent the air and tourists flock to the Green Mountains to enjoy the incredible beauty of fall in Vermont.  Foliage, the season between what Vermonters call “construction season” and “stick season,” is by far the best time of year in my humble opinion.  The weather is crisp and usually sunny, harvest festivals and craft shows abound, and some of my favorite produce is coming into season, including the mysterious winter squashes.

I call them “mysterious” because, in my experience, many people have no idea what to do with winter squashes other than using them for decorating.  That is such an incredible shame!  These beautiful vegetables are also delicious, nutritious, versatile, and, best of all, hard to screw up when cooking.  They also have a long shelf life, making them, in essence, a perfect vegetable.

When picking out your squash at the market, find one that has unblemished skin  and feels heavy for its size.  Some have barnacle looking things on them, and that’s okay, you just want to avoid any soft, bruised ones.  Certain varieties will have patches of color on them, streaks of yellow or green, and that’s totally normal, too.

As for which squash is which…  The acorn squash has a dark green rind and acorn-like shape.  Buttercup squashes look like acorn squashes but have a more rotund shape.  Butternut is the long, peach-colored one with a bulbous end.  Spaghetti squashes are yellow and oval shaped.  And if you don’t know my friend pumpkin, I’m not going to talk to you anymore.  There are other types of squash out there, but all of them can be cooked using the same methods and similar seasonings.  Keep in mind that spaghetti squash is the odd man out:  unlike other squashes, which have thick flesh, spaghetti squash has the unusual consistency of stringy flesh (hence “spaghetti”).

A basic way to cook any squash is roasting it.  First, rinse off the squash, then cut it in half the long way, bisecting it into two symmetrical pieces.  Some people do not remove the seeds at this point, arguing that they impart extra flavor during roasting, but I find it’s easier to free them before cooking.  Use a big spoon to scoop out the seeds.  If you’re like my husband, you’ll rinse the pulp off of those seeds, toss them with olive oil, salt, and garlic powder, and toast them in the oven on a cookie sheet for a lovely little snack or garnish.

But enough about seeds, on to the main event!  Rub the flesh of the squash halves with olive or canola oil, lightly season them with salt, and place them face down on a rimmed baking pan.  Bake them in a 350 degree oven for…well, it depends on what kind of squash you have.  Thinner squashes take less time, while thick squashes can take over an hour.  Check them every 15 to 20 minutes by poking at them with the sharp end of a knife or a metal skewer.  They’re done when you say they are!  Some people want a crisp-tender consistency with their squash; others want to cook them down so that they can be pureed with a fork (a food processor is handy for this task as well).

One thing is for sure; your kitchen will smell like Thanksgiving and you’ll have a tasty treat that can last several meals if you want it to.  Cut the cooked squash into chunks and sauté it so it gets its carmelization on; puree it with a touch of maple syrup, cinnamon, and a hint of butter for a lovely soup; or eat it straight out of the peel with a sprinkling of black pepper and parmesan cheese.  Any way you do it, you can’t go wrong with squash.  Give it a try!

So what do you think?  Did Lisa convince you to give those lovely squashes a try?  Or were you already a fan?

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