It’s not officially winter in Vermont, but we can start celebrating its arrival early in a very tasty way with December’s harvest – winter squash! With several unique and appealing varieties including butternut, delicata, acorn and spaghetti, winter squash is a perfect vegetable to work into both your special holiday and basic weeknight menus.
About Winter Squash
Winter squash is grown during the summer but can still be December’s harvest because it is a perfect cellar vegetable and some varietals are shelf-stable for months after the garden is covered in snow. This is, in part, due to the reduced water content of winter squash (81%) compared to summer squash varieties (98%). The harder the squash and the thicker the skin, the longer it will last in your pantry, so types like butternut and acorn can be enjoyed well into the winter.
Nutrition and Flavor
Winter squash has richly colored flesh that ranges from vibrant yellows to deep oranges. When cooked, its firm flesh becomes soft and rich with subtly sweet flavors. It is a great source of vitamins A and C, potassium, folate, and thiamin. It is also an excellent source of fiber; acorn squash being the best at 9 grams per cup! Those beautiful hues of yellow and orange are the result of carotene pigments which are cancer-fighting antioxidants.
Consuming winter squash with healthy fats like those from nuts, seeds and olive oil helps your body to absorb the healthful nutrients they contain as some of them are fat-soluble. Speaking of seeds, the seeds of these squashes are a nutritional gem themselves with lots of vitamin A and E, lutein, iron and magnesium. They are also a good source of fiber and have ample protein – about 7 g per ounce; slightly more than an ounce of chicken or tuna!
Winter Squash in Cooking
Using winter squash in your cooking and baking is easy, healthy and delicious. Use baked and mashed squash in place of canned pumpkin in any recipe for a twist on pumpkin bread, muffins, cake or even pancakes. Roasting squash helps bring out the sweet and nutty flavors. Try cutting the squash into cubes and roasting in the oven and then using the squash to top salads, in soups or mixed into other starchy sides like rice, stuffing or quinoa.
Mix mashed squash with your classic cheese sauce for a lighter and nutritionally-boosted version of mac and cheese that kids will love. Mashed squash can also be used to bind ingredients for veggies burgers, such as beans and grains together. And don’t forget the seeds! Roasted squash seeds can be used to top salads, yogurt or hot cereal or even incorporated into your favorite baked good in place of other nuts or seeds. They are also a healthy and easy nosh on their own or mixed with dried fruit and nuts.
This Month’s Recipe
December’s harvest of the month recipe stars butternut squash among other seasonal ingredients, including dried cranberries and fragrant cinnamon. This butternut squash confetti salad gains its appeal from both its sweet and savory taste and vibrant appearance. It is unique in that it calls for raw grated squash, but could easily be altered to use cubes of roasted squash if desired. Tossed in a maple-Dijon balsamic dressing, this salad is easy and quick to prepare, healthy and a beautiful complement to any protein on your dinner plate. Serve over mixed greens or spinach with a piece of chicken or fish for a complete and colorful meal.
Visit the Vermont Harvest of the Month website for more recipes using winter squash including and other information.
Butternut Squash Confetti Salad
- 1butternut squash (about 2.5 pounds)
- 1/2cupdried cranberries or cherries
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2cupolive oil
- 1 1/2Tbspbalsamic vinegar
- 1/4cupmaple syrup
- 2Tbspdijon mustard
- pepper, to taste
- Grate the raw butternut squash using the largest holes of a box grater.
- Combine the squash, dried cranberries or cherries, salt, and pepper in a bowl.
- Add dressing to taste. Toss, taste, and adjust the seasoning.
- Combine all of the dressing ingredients except the pepper in a mixing bowl.
- Add pepper, to taste.
- Shake well. Toss the dressing with the salad. Adjust seasonings if necessary.
Bridget Shea, RD, is a clinical dietician at The University of Vermont Medical Center.