Winter squash is a versatile and nutritious food. Because of the different varieties that are available, the number of dishes and preparations are endless.
The most popular squash that you should be able to find in local grocery stores are Buttercup, Acorn, Butternut, Spaghetti and Pumpkin. Winter squash are different than summer squash (such as zucchini) because they are picked after they have fully matured. This is what gives winter squash their hard shells and longer cooking times – but it also means they have longer storage times and a sweeter taste compared to the summer varieties.
Squash is an excellent source of beta-carotene and potassium. Beta-carotene is what gives the flesh of squash their bright yellow and orange colours. It also acts as an antioxidant, which may help to reduce the risk of some diseases and fight the signs of aging.
Potassium is a mineral that can help lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Potassium also plays an important role in keeping our kidneys, muscles and digestive system functioning well.
Ontario squash is available from January until March and again August until December. Look for the Foodland Ontario logo to know if the squash you are buying comes from a farm in Ontario.
When you buy local food, you support farmers so they can keep producing high quality, affordable food we can all enjoy.
Shopping and storing
Look for squash that feel heavy for their size, and have dry surfaces without any soft spots or bruises. Even though their outside shells are hard, squash can bruise easily.
Store squash in a cool, dry place. Under these conditions, squash can be stored for 2-4 months. Once cut open, they should be wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge.
Butternut: Butternuts look like large pears with long necks. They are a creamy orange colour – avoid ones with green skin as this means that they are not ripe. Butternut squash keeps its shape when cooked, so chop it into cubes and add to rice, pasta and other side dishes. Puree the flesh to make a creamy soup.
*Preparation tip – to make peeling easier, use a vegetable peeler to take off the skin.
Buttercup: Buttercups either have a parachute or crown shape. They have a smooth and sweet orange flesh that makes a good substitute for sweet potato.
Acorn: Acorn squash look just how you’d expect – like large acorns. Their shell is hard, dense and green with orange stripes. The skin is difficult to peel so cook it with the skin on and then scoop out the peppery orange-yellow flesh.
Spaghetti: Small and yellow, spaghetti squash has a mild nut-like flavour. Once cooked, the flesh of the squash separates into strands that look just like spaghetti. Toss the strands with your favourite tomato sauce for a pasta alternative.
Ornamental squash: While many are edible, their unusual shapes and colours make them more popular for centerpieces and household décor. Ornamental gourds, on the other hand, look like squash but they are actually dried out fruits that are used for decoration.
With the many varieties of squash available, try experimenting with different cooking methods and flavours.
Roasting: If the skin is thick, don’t bother to peel the squash as it will come off much easier after it’s cooked. Roast your squash with a touch of butter, cinnamon and applesauce. The soft flesh can then be mashed, cut into cubes and added to rice, pasta and risotto, or pureed into a soup.
Grilling: Cut the squash into cubes and place on skewers. Coat with honey, ginger or chili pepper for added flavour.
Bake a pie: Just like pumpkin, other winter squashes make delicious pies when flavoured with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, or clove.
Microwave: Pierce the squash’s skin with a fork if you are cooking it whole.
For a special presentation, use the squash shell as an edible bowl or soup tureen.
Give these recipes a try:
Autumn Chicken and Squash Dinner
Mexican Squash Soup
Squash Brownies With Chocolate Swirl Topping
Last Update – April 25, 2017