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A Wonderland of Winter Squash

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1381_spicy_spaghetti_squash

I really enjoy the changing of the seasons. Growing up in Honolulu, there wasn't a whole lot of difference in the weather between Christmas and the 4th of July. I'm not complaining by any means, but there is something so inspiring about each clear season. Once the cool air sets in, out come all my cookbooks and in comes new ideas for using all my old favorites.Right now, I am focused on winter squash. These sweet, hearty favorites of our American ancestors are harvested each year from the late summer through the fall. They can be stored in a cool climate for months, allowing for great eating during the winter. The vibrant yellows and deep oranges of their flesh give you a hint that they're packed with powerful carotenoids, including beta-carotene. Winter squash are also an excellent source of magnesium, potassium, vitamins C and A, and a good source of calcium.Here are some of the more common winter squash along with delicious recipes to try:

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  • Acorn squash: Mildly sweet flesh makes it perfect for stuffing with all kinds of flavorful goodies - anything from whole grains to bread cubes, mushrooms and other cooked veggies. Here's a hearty Winter Squash Stuffed with Lentil Pilaf.

  • Butternut squash: Sweet and delicate, this versatile favorite makes incredible soup, although it is equally delicious diced and added to stews or baked, sautéed and simmered on its own. Here's our Classic Butternut Squash Soup and you should also try this Roasted Butternut Squash with Sage and Cranberries.

  • Delicata squash: Perfect for baking, it is moist, sweet and mild. Great simply with a little butter and sea salt.

  • Hubbard squash: This is great baked, steamed or added to soups or stews like in this Squash Stew with White Beans and Kale.

  • Kabocha squash: This deep green, somewhat pumpkin-shaped squash is an early season favorite. Just like with potatoes, you can eat the skin on this squash. Perfectly suited to baking, braising or steaming. I love it with caramelized onions! Try this nourishing Kabocha Squash and Spinach Soup.

  • Spaghetti squash: When cooked, the flesh of this squash separates into strands, very much like spaghetti. Best cut in half and baked or steamed until just tender. Here's a simple dish of Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Herbs and this Spicy Spaghetti Squash with Black Beans may be your next family dinner favorite.

If your recipe doesn't provide specific cooking instructions, here are the basics for baking most types of winter squash:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.

  • Before cooking, wash the skin under running water.

  • Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds and fibers.

  • Place the squash face down on a lightly oiled baking dish. Cover with foil and bake until tender.

  • You can also bake the squash whole, but be sure to pierce the skin with a sharp knife near the stem end so steam can escape during baking.

  • Generally, 45 minutes to an hour is good, but some squash may require more or less time depending on their size. They are done when the flesh is tender and easily pierced.

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Here are some of my favorite ways to add winter squash to your dishes:

  • Heat and serve mashed with butter, cinnamon, honey or maple syrup

  • Add cubes to your favorite soup or stew recipe

  • Top spaghetti squash with olive oil, herbs and parmesan cheese; or toss with pesto or your favorite pasta sauce

  • Stuff acorn squash with your favorite dressing recipe (cornbread is really delicious!)

  • Roast cubes of winter squash with cubes of hearty apples (choose varieties that stand up well to heat, such as Granny Smith)

  • Make pasta and top with roasted winter squash and pumpkin seeds, Asiago cheese and a little extra virgin olive oil

  • Use mashed sweet squash (butternut, kabocha) for making "pumpkin" pie

  • Add mashed squash to cookies, cakes, muffins and breads in place of puréed pumpkin.

Got a favorite recipe for winter squash? I would love to hear!

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