These zany-looking vegetables are one of the hallmarks of the autumn harvest. Winter squash are versatile and nutritious. Roast, mash or puree them with terrific-tasting results. The veggies can also team with grains like rice and pasta, star in a soup, and make wonderful baked goods and desserts.

There are lots of varieties of winter squash, and while the size and skin can range from small to big, yellow to green, stripy to speckled, bumpy to smooth, all winter squash have sweet orange or yellow flesh and can be used interchangeably in recipes.

Some of the kinds of winter squash you will find in the market are Butternut, Acorn, Hubbard, Red Kuri, Turban and Pumpkin. Pick smaller squash (they’ll be sweeter and more tender) that feel heavy for their size. They’ll keep for up to a month stored in a cool, dry place but not the fridge.

The great thing about winter squash is that they taste creamy and rich without being either. Virtually fat-free, they are plentiful in vitamins and minerals and a great source of healthful fiber. Winter squash are one of the few vegetables that offer vitamin E. Beta-carotene, which gives winter squash its gorgeous color, is another plus.

“Squash really is a perfect vegetable for Thanksgiving dinner. Its sweet flavor complements poultry or pork, while its deep orange color livens up the plate. It’s available most times of the year, but it tastes best right now in peak season,” says FoodFit Executive Chef Bonnie Moore.

It’s no secret that winter squash are as hard as a rock, with a tough, inedible skin and the prospect of prepping the vegetables makes a lot of home cooks give them a pass at the market.

The key to peeling and cutting winter squash is using a microwave to soften them, explains Chef Moore. “You can even use it to cook the squash and ease the demand for burner space on a busy holiday,” she adds.

Microwave a whole squash for two to three minutes. Cut in half, add a splash of water to the cavity in each half (this helps it cook faster) and microwave until tender, about seven to eight minutes. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Scoop the flesh into a bowl and mash it with salt, pepper and add any of the following seasonings to taste: ginger, cinnamon or nutmeg. Serve.

Fruits: apples, applesauce, lemon, pineapple, pears, pear sauce, orange juice
Herbs: mint, parsley, rosemary, thyme, sage
Nuts: pecans, walnuts, chestnuts (toasted, they add texture and dress up squash purees)
Spices: curry, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, ancho chili powder
Savory: Parmesan cheese, aged Gouda, proscuitto ham all balance the natural sweetness of winter squash

Microwave winter squash for one to two minutes (on high) and peeling the skin will be a piece of cake.
Microwave winter squash for two to three minutes (on high) and cutting it will be totally manageable.
Microwave winter squash for five to seven minutes and finish in the oven. You’ll save half the cooking time and still get the caramelized taste that comes with roasting.
Note: Cooking times may vary.

  1. Melted Golden Squash
  2. Acorn Squash Bisque
  3. Mashed Baked Butternut Squash with Lemon and Mint
  4. Butternut Squash and Dried Fig Risotto
  5. Pumpkin Muffins with Candied Ginger

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