Winter squash, members of the Cucurbitaceae family and relatives of both the melon and the cucumber, come in many different varieties. While each type varies in shape, color, size and flavor, they all share some common characteristics. Their shells are hard and difficult to pierce, enabling them to have long storage periods between one week and six months. Their flesh is mildly sweet in flavor and finely grained in texture. Additionally, all have seed-containing hollow inner cavities.
Epicurious provides a nice visual guide for identifying types of winter squash. Click here to view.
When the colonists arrived in North America, they were introduced to a vegetable they'd neither seen nor tasted before―squash. Native Americans, however, had been eating it for many centuries. The English name of this tasty member of the gourd family comes from the Narragansett word askutasquash.
With the exception of spaghetti squash, virtually any winter squash (including pumpkin) can be substituted for another in any recipe, from main dish to side dish to dessert. The first order of business, though, is how to cut the squash. With a hefty knife or cleaver, hack off the stem, then smash the knife or cleaver lengthwise into the rind. If necessary, use a rubber mallet or rolling pin to gently hammer right where the blade meets the handle, until the squash splits. If you're still having trouble, pierce the skin in a couple of places, microwave the squash on HIGH for a minute or two, and let it stand for several minutes; then, try cutting it again. Once you've split the squash, use a large spoon to clean the seeds and membrane out of the cavity. It's now ready to be boiled, baked, roasted, simmered, steamed, or sauteed. If you're baking or microwaving a whole squash, be sure to pierce the rind in several places with a fork so it won't explode. (If you need to peel the squash, do so after cooking.) One pound of winter squash will provide about two cups of cooked pieces.
- After cooking, it can be mashed and used in breads, cakes, muffins, scones, pies, etc.
- Steamed...cube the squash and steam until tender. Dress it with melted butter or olive oil and your favorite seasonings.
- Creamed in a soup.
- Top puréed cooked winter squash with cinnamon and maple syrup.
- Steam cubes of winter squash and then dress with olive oil, soy sauce, ginger and pumpkin seeds.
The ideal storage place would be one that is not as cold as a refrigerator, but not as warm as a heated house. A cool pantry or cabinet or an unheated garage or basement that stays in the 50s is ideal.
Generally, most varieties are rich in vitamins C and A (in the form of beta-carotene), two antioxidants that help prevent cancer, heart disease, and some eye problems. That's why color is important--the darker the squash, the more beta-carotene and other nutrients it contains. Winter squash is also a good source of iron and riboflavin.
Black Bean Pumpkin Soup
Yields: 9 cups
4 1/2 cups cooked black beans
1 cup drained canned tomatoes, chopped
1 1/4 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup minced shallot
4 garlic cloves minced
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
4 cups beef broth
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 cup dry Sherry
1/2 pound cooked ham, cut into 1/8-inch dice *optional
3 to 4 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
Garnish: sour cream and coarsely chopped lightly toasted pumpkin seeds
In a food processor coarsely puree beans and tomatoes.
In a 6-quart heavy kettle cook onion, shallot, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper in butter over moderate heat, stirring, until onion is softened and beginning to brown. Stir in bean puree. Stir in broth, pumpkin, and Sherry until combined and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 25 minutes, or until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Just before serving, add ham and vinegar and simmer soup, stirring, until heated through. Season soup with salt and pepper.
Serve soup garnished with sour cream and toasted pumpkin seeds.
- Vegetable oil, for baking sheets
- 3 acorn squashes (about 1 1/2 pounds each), halved, seeded, and sliced into 1-inch-thick crescents
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- 1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar, can also substitute maple syrup
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil, and brush with oil.
Lay squash pieces on baking sheets. Season with salt and pepper; sprinkle squashes evenly with half the sugar. Roast until sugar has melted, about 5 minutes.
Remove baking sheets from oven. Using tongs, turn over pieces. Season with salt and pepper; sprinkle evenly with remaining sugar. Roast until tender, about 20 minutes.
Winter Squash Soup with Kale
- 4 strips bacon, 4 ounces, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 pound kale, thick stems removed, leaves finely chopped (about 8 cups)
- 4 cups Winter Squash puree
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- STEP 1
Cook bacon in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate; set aside.
- STEP 2
Add onion to fat in pan, and cook until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add kale; cook until soft, 3 to 4 minutes.
- STEP 3
Add squash puree and 3 cups water (or more if necessary to achieve desired consistency-can substitute chicken/veg. broth); bring just to a boil . Season generously with salt and pepper. Serve, garnished with reserved bacon.
Red Lentil and Squash Curry Soup
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt
- 1 recipe Curry Powder
- 12 ounces red lentils
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut in 1/2-inch pieces
- Two 14 1/2-ounce cans low-sodium canned, or homemade, chicken stock, skimmed of fat
- 2 cups water
Combine salt and curry powder; set aside. Rinse lentils; set aside. Heat butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add curry mixture; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add onion, garlic, and ginger; cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add squash; cook until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add stock and water. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Cook until squash is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in lentils; cook until soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot.