All About Winter Squash

Winter squash, which come in a variety of sizes, flavors, and colors, are a superhealthy vegetable choice for those on Phase 2 and 3 of the South Beach Diet. Whether you crave a comforting bowl of soup, a flavorful side dish, or a savory squash brown rice risotto, there are plenty of delicious ways to enjoy this hearty cold-weather staple. An outstanding source of carotenoids (including beta-carotene), as well as vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and fiber, winter squash, like all bright-orange vegetables, can help reduce LDL cholesterol and high blood pressure, and even boost your resistance to colds and infection.

Buying and Storing Tips

Larger squash like calabaza, hubbard, and banana squash are often available whole at farmers’ markets and you’ll sometimes find them cut up at better supermarkets. Smaller, more common squash, like acorn, butternut, and delicata, are widely available whole and cut-up. Look for a squash with smooth, dry skin and without cracks or soft spots. The skin should be dull; shiny skin indicates that the squash was picked too early and, as a result, doesn’t have the full sweetness of more mature squash. Whole squash should last for up to 3 months or longer in a cool, dry place. Cut squash will keep for up to a week if tightly wrapped and refrigerated.

Cooking with Winter Squash

Because winter squash have a hard, thick skin (which is not typically eaten), you need to be extremely careful cutting them up. Some produce managers will do this for you or some supermarkets carry the squash precut. Wash the squash first, then cut off the stem and blossom ends, using a heavy chef’s knife or cleaver. Next, carefully cut the squash in half or in thirds, depending on the size. First, make a shallow cut in the skin to use as a guide to prevent the knife blade from slipping. Then, place the blade of the knife in the cut and tap the base of the knife until the squash is cut through. Scoop out the seeds and leave the halves whole if you plan to stuff and bake them, or cut the squash into smaller chunks and peel or not, as desired, for roasting or steaming. If you have trouble cutting a larger squash, bake or steam it whole to soften up the skin.

Three of the most popular varieties of winter squash are:

Acorn: An oval-shaped squash with a hard, deeply ridged green skin, often laced with orange markings, this winter squash has an orange-yellow flesh that’s slightly sweet. The most common way to cook acorn squash is to halve them, remove the seeds, lightly season with your choice of spices, and bake. In our Acorn Squash with Two-Bean Gratin, we combine briefly cooked acorn squash with seasoned black and pinto beans and top it with a Mexican cheese blend and pumpkin seeds before roasting it in the oven.

Butternut: Butternut squash have a beige- or tan-colored skin and are long-necked and bell-shaped. The flesh is a deep orange and mildly sweet. Because butternut squash provide a lot of flesh for their size, they are often used to make soup or puréed to add to a sauce for pasta. The squash makes a creamy and flavorful addition to our Butternut Squash Risotto, made with long-grain brown rice rather than traditional white arborio.

Delicata: Also known as bohemian squash, delicata has a cream-colored skin with stripes that vary in color from green to orange. Its orange-yellow flesh is extremely sweet, rich, and moist. As with all winter squash, roasting delicata intensifies its flavors. Make a quick and easy side dish by tossing roasted delicata with dried unsweetened cranberries and apricots, and sliced almonds or chopped walnuts. Drizzle with a little olive or walnut oil and sprinkle with orange or lemon zest.

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