Walk through any market today and you’ll be amazed at the variety of squash piled high in deep, bright colors. With their tough shells and unusual shapes, you may think they are better suited to decorating than eating, but if you can get past their intimidating appearance, you’ll find them a flavorful and nutritious super food.
Begin your squash journey by selecting a winter variety currently in season, including butternut, acorn, hubbard, spaghetti, delicata and pumpkin. These differ from summer squash (such as crookneck and zucchini) which are eaten before their rind hardens. Winter squash are harvested when the fruit inside matures and the seeds are large and plump.
Select squash that are firm, heavy for their size, dull (not glossy) and free of soft spots or cracks. Once home, squash can sit at room temperature for 10-20 days, but can be stored in a cooler, dry place for up to 6 months, then washed right before being prepared for savoring. For more information about safe handling and storage, visit http://farmtotable.colostate.edu/docs/squashfactsheet.pdf .
Cutting a winter squash can be a challenge, and is the reason most often given by people who do not cook them at home. To simplify this task, poke holes in the squash with a knife and microwave it for up to 5 minutes. Then try cutting it – the hard rind will be softened. Cut it in half and remove all the seeds and fibers.
Be sure to keep the seeds! Having to separate and wash the seeds adds a step, but one that is well worth it. Rinse seeds with water, pat them dry, and combine 1 cup with 1 tablespoon olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt. Spread out this mixture on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes at 275 degrees. Once cool, both children and adults will love snacking on these.
Once seeds and pulp are removed, squash halves can be placed face down with about ¼ inch water in a baking pan and baked, broiled or microwaved. Once cooked, cut the flesh away from the skin in bite-size pieces or scoop it out with a spoon. Then the fun begins.
Did I mention squash is nutritious? One cup of cooked winter squash has more potassium than a banana, more vitamin C than a tomato, more fiber than an apple, and as much vitamin A as a serving of carrots. Now that’s a super food!
As seen in the Fort Collins Coloradoan
Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND
is a nutrition educator with over 20 years experience as a college professor, nutrition coach, presenter and writer, as well as a nutrition consultant and founding director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.