Winter Squash

winter squashI love this time of year when there is a chill in the air and a large selection of winter squash in the stores and markets. Winter squash is one of my all-time favorite foods and is one of the healthiest foods available in our diet. There are so many different varieties available that it can be confusing as to how to use them in cooking.

Winter squash come in many shapes and colors. No two look exactly alike. The different varieties of winter squash may be substituted for each other in recipes.  Following is some great information that will hopefully take the mystery out of selecting and preparing squash:

Variety Texture Flavor Soup Steam Stuff Size Fun Facts
Acorn Moist, tender Sweet, nutty X X X ¾ – 2 lbs Was recently the most popular in U.S.
Butternut Moist Very sweet X X 2-5 lbs Use in place of pumpkin in pies for smoother texture
Delicata Semi dry Sweet, nutty X X 5-6” long, 2-3” diameter The skin is edible
Kabocha Tender, dense Sweet, nutty, very flavorful X X 2-5 lbs Pairs well with Asian spices
Pie Pumpkin Tender Sweet X X X 4-7 lbs A 4 lb pumpkin will yield 1.5 cups of mashed pumpkin
Spaghetti Stringy, firm Slightly sweet X 3-5 lbs Use in place of noodles in spaghetti
Turban Floury Nutty, deep X 4-7 lbs Makes a fun soup tureen when roasted

The Astoria Co-op in Astoria, Oregon has developed a great visual winter squash chart .

Selecting Squash: Look for squash that feels heavy for its size and has hard, deep-colored skin free from blemishes. Do not choose squash with sunken or moldy spots. Skin color variations do not affect the flavor of squash.

Preparing Squash: Cutting: Winter squash have hard skin and flesh. To cut in half, grasp firmly and use a sharp knife to slice through to the center. Then flip and cut the other side until the squash falls open. Remove the seeds. Hint: Perforate with a knife and place the whole winter squash in the microwave for 3 minutes; then cut it easily, remove seeds.

All varieties are great for baking, roasting and pureeing.  Once squash is cooked and mashed, it can be used in soups, main dishes, vegetable side dishes, even breads, muffins, cookies or pies.

  • BAKE: Using a whole winter squash, pierce the rind with a fork and bake in a 350 degree oven 45 minutes or until soft. Acorn or butternut squash are frequently cut in half, baked, and served in the shell.
  • BOIL OR STEAM: Cut into quarters or rings and  steam 25 minutes or until tender, or boil just as you would potatoes.  Add peeled squash cubes to your favorite soups, stews, beans, gratins, and vegetable ragouts.
  • MICROWAVE: Place halves or quarters, cut side down, in a shallow dish.  Add 1/4 cup water. Cover tightly and microwave on HIGH 6 minutes per pound.  Whole squash can be poked all over with a fork.  Microwave on HIGH approximately 5 to 10 minutes depending on the size of the squash.
  • ROAST:  Preheat oven to 400°F. Halve the squash lengthwise and discard seeds. If desired, peel with a vegetable peeler or cut into big chunks and keep steady on the cutting board while cutting off the peel with a knife. Cut into 1-inch cubes. Transfer to a large, rimmed baking sheet. Toss with oil, salt and pepper and spread out in a single layer. Roast, tossing occasionally, until just tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Here’s a short video from our friends at Spend Smart Eat Smart:

Winter squash is on of the most nutritious foods available to us as consumers.


Winter squash is on of the most nutritious foods available to us as consumers and following are some of its key nutrients.

•  Vitamin A: helps with seeing at night and helps the immune system
•  Vitamin C: helps heal cuts and helps the immune system
•  Fiber: helps reduce cholesterol levels and may lower your risk of heart disease

With its ease of preparation and health benefits, pick up some winter squash today and enjoy it with your family!

contributed by Jill Jensen, former AnswerLine Specialist


Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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