Make squash a winter staple
Matthew Kadey, MSc, RD
Winter squash recipes warm and comfort us during the long, cold season. Versatile and nutritious, you can roast them, stuff them, or turn them into soup or muffins.
When the weather starts turning frightful, curvy winter squash is the perfect replacement for all those vegetables whose peak season has long passed. From butternut to buttercup, these winter vegetables have a number of things going for them.
First of all, their price is right when they’re in season, and they have laudable storage powers considering they can stay fresh for several weeks if kept in a cool, dark location. Winter squash are also ultra-versatile in the kitchen—and not to be forgotten is their nutritional greatness.
Low-calorie winter squash contains an impressive slew of nutrients, including potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, fibre, and beta carotene. Beyond its function as a potent antioxidant, beta carotene can be converted to vitamin A in the body to boost immunity and eye health. A recent study also found that higher intakes of beta carotene could help reduce the risk for atrial fibrillation, a potentially dangerous irregular heartbeat.
Puréed winter squash can be used in a range of dishes such as dips, baked goods, pancakes, and oatmeal to add a boost of nutrition and flavour.
To prepare squash purée, cut squash in half, remove seeds with spoon or ice cream scoop, brush flesh with oil and place squash on baking sheet cut side down. Bake at 400 F (200 C) until flesh is tender. Scrape flesh into bowl and mash with fork or potato masher. For finer consistency, use a food processor. You can also peel, cube, and steam squash until very tender.
Extra purée can be divided among standard-sized muffin cups and frozen into ready-to-go portions. Stored in an airtight container, frozen squash purée will last four months.
Selecting a squash
Winter squash comes in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and tastes. It’s always fun to incorporate a new variety into your winter menu. No matter which gourd you gravitate toward, make sure that it is heavy for its size, with taut skin and no soft spots or cracks.
This guise of squash gleans its name from the tree nut it resembles and has mostly dark green skin, with yellow-orange flesh that has subtle taste notes of black pepper and hazelnuts.
Try it: Roasted acorn halves are perfect for stuffing with various grain salads. Adorn acorn slices with syrup reduction sauces, such as balsamic or pomegranate.
This squash has a hard green skin with creamy orange flesh and turbanlike shape. It’s one of the sweetest tasting varieties.
Try it: Buttercup’s natural sweetness is a welcome addition to soups and other purées, such as baked goods or dips.
Hourglasslike butternut is blessed with a silky texture and taste reminiscent of sweet potato bathed in butter.
Try it: Roast or steam into cubes for a nutritious and tasty addition to salads, frittatas, and tacos. Or mash it and use as a stuffing for ravioli, a spread for sandwiches, or even as a pizza sauce.
The oblong delicata has a pale yellow skin and is not too shy to show off its green strips. The pulp is creamy and tastes a bit like a love child of corn and sweet potatoes.
Try it: Slice in half lengthwise and use as a squash boat for all sorts of stuffings. Roasted slices with a butter maple syrup glaze will quickly turn into a favourite winter side dish. Unlike other squash, delicata’s thinner skin is edible once cooked.
This giant of the squash world is available in blue-grey, green, or orange-red varieties, all with warty skin and grainy, mildly sweet flesh.
Try it: Cut into cubes and string onto kebab skewers or toss with other seasonal items such as parsnips and rutabaga for a roasted vegetable medley.
Watermelon-shaped with golden yellow rind, this squash is aptly named—once cooked, the flesh pulls apart into slightly nutty, spaghetti-like strands.
Try it: Toss strands with pesto or top with meat sauce for a twist on pasta night.