As the leaves turn crimson and kitchen gardens stop yielding those beautiful tomatoes and zucchini, getting our daily dose of fresh vegetables becomes a challenge. As the autumn harvest bounty begins to trickle, our choices may change but there is still an entire family of vegetables growing strong. This late harvest has a shelf life that carried our ancestors through until the first tender vegetables of spring. This wonderful and vitamin-rich powerhouse of a vegetable is called winter squash and comes in so many varieties, you’ll be hard-pressed to try each one before the buds of spring begin to emerge.
Winter squashes grow on vine-type plants, much like the summer varieties, but the similarities end there. Most varieties of winter squash have a long maturity and require at least three months on the vine; they are best harvested in the cool autumn weather. The thick skin or rind of all winter squashes must be peeled before being eaten, but it is this thick skin that gives them such a long shelf life. If kept in a cool, dry place, some varieties will stay good for up to six months!
As far as nutrition goes, Mother Nature knew what she was doing when she made the sturdiest of the late fall vegetables one of the most nutritionally dense foods available. All varieties of winter squash are complex carbohydrates and high in fiber, which gives them a very low glycemic index rating and makes them ideal for pre-diabetics or those with diabetes. The orange colored flesh tells us there is a copious amount of beta-carotene; the deeper the color, the higher the concentration. Beta-carotene converts to vitamin A in the body, an anti-oxidant that is essential for the eyes, skin and bone development. However, it is the synergistic relationship with vitamins C and E and selenium that make it a critical component for boosting the immune system. You don’t need me to tell you how important that is as winter’s cold begins to grip us. They are also rich in minerals with sizable amounts of potassium and manganese and slightly less calcium and iron.
There are more than a dozen varieties of winter squash, each with its own distinct flavor and texture. Acorn squash, the rippled, dark green variety, is one of the most widely available and its sweet, yellow flesh is perfect for roasting. Butternut is another squash you commonly see. Its bright orange flesh has a flavor similar to a sweet potato but its higher water content makes it ideal for soups and purees. Buttercup squash, a cousin to the vibrantly colored turban, used primarily for decoration, is sweet and great for making pies. The delicata, also called peanut or bohemian squash, is oblong and considered to be one of the tastier squashes. It has a creamy texture but due to its thinner skin, cannot be stored long.
Hubbard squashes are those gigantic bumpy blue-green squashes that look too strange to eat but are delicious; the extra hard skin makes them one of the best keepers. They’re great for soups and pies, but the high water content requires slightly longer cooking times. Spaghetti squash is another type commonly found at the grocery store; its unique, nutty flesh separates into strands when cooked. It’s a great pasta stand-in for those who are wheat intolerant. A little marinara sauce and fresh basil and you won’t know the difference. Lastly, sweet dumplings are one of those beautiful little squashes that look like mini pumpkins with green and white ribs, often with orange and yellow spots. They are perfectly made for stuffing and roasting or filling with soup for an incredibly beautiful presentation.
Another fabulous way to enjoy winter squashes is as a stuffing for ravioli. If the idea of making fresh pasta is both daunting and horrifying, don’t despair. Instead, head to Ring Brothers Marketplace in Dennis, a market that specializes in locally produced items, and try Nata’s Noodles fresh butternut squash ravioli. Take them home, boil until tender and simply toss them in a sauté pan with some olive oil, fresh sage, caramelized onions and a sprinkle of walnuts for a meal rich in vitamins, minerals and Omega 3s.
Roasted Acorn Squash with Chestnuts and Cranberries
This recipe is a simple and tasty
way to make squash, especially since you don’t need to peel it.
I assure you everyone in the family will love it!
1 medium-sized acorn squash
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup roasted chestnuts*
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup real maple syrup
Sea salt and pepper
Serves 4-6 as a side dish
Pre-heat oven to 375. Slice the squash using the ribs as your
guidelines; remove seeds and stringy pulp. Drizzle with olive oil and roast in oven for 10-15 minutes, until just soft. Add the chestnuts and cranberries and drizzle with maple syrup, taking care to get some on each piece; continue
roasting for an additional 10
minutes, or until squash is soft.
Vegan Curried Squash Bisque
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 shallot, minced
2 Granny Smith apples, cored and finely diced
3 stalks of celery, finely diced
2 lbs. butternut, hubbard or
1 tsp. garam masala**
3+1 cups water or vegetable stock
8 oz. silken tofu
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Serves 4-8, depending on portion size
Over medium heat, sauté onions, shallots, apples and celery until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add the cubed squash and garam masala and sauté for
1 minute. Add water or stock
and simmer for at least 20-30
minutes. If necessary, add more water and stock to keep a thick
liquid consistency; each squash
has varying water contents, so
add water accordingly.
Once the squash is broken down and the soup is a thick and chunky consistency, add the silken tofu.
Place mixture in food processor,
or use a hand blender; blend until smooth. Season to taste.
This soup is a great as a starter or pair with some crusty bread and a green salad for a hearty and healthy meal.
* You can buy chestnuts already roasted, you can often find them frozen or you can roast them yourself: Score an “x” on one side and place in a 350-degree oven until the skin begins to spread, about 25 minutes. Be sure to tell your guests not to eat the rind!
**Garam masala is an Indian spice blend that combines cumin, coriander, cloves, ginger, chilies, bay leaf, and cassia. It is available at the Atlantic Spice Company in Truro or online. It gives this soup a great flavor but if you can’t find it, try adding the spices separately; for example, a dash of cumin, cloves and ginger will combine to make a great flavor.
Several of Cape Cod’s finest dining establishments feature different varieties of winter squash in unique and innovative ways. The Cape Sea Grille in Harwichport is only open until the holidays but if you can make a trip there, chef and owner Doug Ramler will not disappoint you with his roasted blue hubbard squash soup with house smoked scallops and curried crème fraiche. Another creative way he uses winter squash is the sautéed shrimp on pumpkin puree with smoked bacon, caramelized apples and toasted almonds—a perfect marriage of sweet and savory. Squash takes center stage with a vegetarian entrée of roasted acorn squash stuffed with orzo, sautéed fall vegetables and toasted hazelnuts in a roasted garlic corn broth.
Creamy risottos are another popular way to showcase winter squashes, providing a perfect platform to highlight their earthy and nutty-sweet flavors. Butternut squash is a great choice for risottos because of its texture and water content. If you want to, try it at home or visit the Ocean House in Dennisport and try the grilled butternut squash and spinach risotto with truffle oil, parmesan reggiano and crispy sage. The Regatta of Cotuit serves up its own rendition with a roasted butternut squash risotto with sweet pea ravioli and arugula salad. Finally, 902 Main on Route 28 in Yarmouth pairs its unique butternut squash risotto with seared Atlantic cod and Brussel sprouts with a warm cranberry vinaigrette.
Whether you decide to roast some acorn squash or make a hearty lunch of some squash bisque, you will be treating your body to a tasty and incredibly healthy food. Branch out and try all these wonderful and strange varieties! You’ll not only be glad you did, but you’ll find yourself buying far fewer frozen vegetables this winter. It’s great on the palette, and great on the eyes! Enjoy these big, bumpy, colorful squashes any way you like! CHA
BY HEATHER BAILEY, WINTER 2007
Heather Bailey, CNC, has been a chef, food writer and educator on Cape Cod for the past 8 years. She has recently received her certification as a Nutritional Consultant and has opened The Optimal Kitchen, offering nutritional consults, private and group cooking instruction, wellness coaching and personal chef services. Heather can be reached at 774-216-9553.
RDA nutritional values
1 cup cubed and cooked squash
(various types differ only slightly in nutritional content)
146% Vitamin A – Excellent Source
30% Vitamin C – Very Good
25% Potassium – Very Good
22% Dietary Fiber – Very Good
20% Manganese – Very Good
15% Folate – Good
14% Omega 3s – Good
12% Thiamin (B-1) – Good
10% Copper – Good
10% Tryptophan – Good
Small amounts of Iron, Calcium,
Niacin, Pyridoxine, Pantothenic Acid
Roasting – You can cut most types in half and remove the seeds and pulp.
Place in a roasting pan with about 1/4 inch of water.
Place in a 350-degree oven for approx. 30-40 minutes, or until soft.
Steam – Remove rind and slice squash in 1/2 inch thick pieces. Cook for about 25 minutes or until soft.
This is a great way to cook squash if you want to make a puree. Simply place cooked squash in a food processor and pulse until desired consistency; flavor with a dash of cinnamon, cloves and even a dash of pungent cardamom to enhance the squash’s subtle sweetness.
Boil – This way is good if you are planning on making soup and using the cooking water as part of your broth. Be sure to sauté onions and other vegetables separately before adding them.
This is also a great way to make homemade baby food.