As the days get shorter and the temperature drops, preparing hearty meals can be a source of comfort. A nutritious and flavorful addition to cold-weather dishes can be this month’s harvest, winter squash.
There are several types of winter squash, the more well-known being butternut, pumpkin, acorn, spaghetti, and delicata. Other varieties include hubbard, kuri, and buttercup. All winter squash are members of the cucurbitaceae family, which also includes summer squash, watermelon, and cucumbers. Although they are harvested in the fall, winter squash varieties live up to their name because they can be stored throughout the winter. In Vermont, they will likely be available on grocery store shelves through March.
The nutritional profile of winter squash varies by type. In general, these starchy-vegetables are a great source of Vitamin A which promotes healthy skin and teeth, as well as vision. They are also a good source of Vitamin C, an anti-oxidant which helps prevent damage from free-radicals in the body. Other health benefits of incorporating winter squash into the diet include an added source of fiber, which is needed to maintain digestive health.
When shopping for squash at the grocery store, you may consider shape, color, taste, and method of preparation before making a selection. Squash can be baked, steamed, or boiled, and may also need to be peeled. These vegetables can be stored for longer periods of time due to their tough outer shell, which can make peeling squash slightly cumbersome. One way to make peeling a squash a little easier is to pop it in the microwave for 3-4 minutes, let it cool for 1-2 minutes, and then use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin. Squash can also be prepared without being peeled. For example, spaghetti squash can simply be cut in half and placed in the oven to roast after removing the seeds. The flesh of the squash can then be easily scooped out of the skin after baking.
When deciding what kinds of foods to pair winter squash with, consider whether you would like to make it the main focus of the meal, or a side dish. For example, spaghetti squash can be used as an alternative to pasta as a twist a traditional noodle dish. Delicata and acorn squash can be cut in half, scooped, seasoned, and roasted with their skin on and served as a side dish. Butternut squash, which is often peeled and cubed, can also be served mashed as an alternative to potatoes. Butternut squash is also great cubed and added to soups or stews and even curry dishes or stir-fry. Whichever way you choose to serve them, prepare to spend a little more time cooking winter squash to soften them and release their full flavor and sweetness.
In this month’s recipe, roasted delicata squash is topped a zesty lime-butter to compliment the slightly sweet flavor of this tasty winter squash. With only a few ingredients, the recipe has great depth of flavor due to the sweet and earthy squash, tangy lime, creamy butter and the spiciness of the chili powder. There is plenty of time to prepare the topping while the squash roasts in the oven, making meal preparation simple.
Winter squash is a versatile, nutrient-dense root vegetable that can add flavor and color to any meal. Take advantage this season of the many varieties offered here in Vermont, and don’t be afraid to try them all!
For more on winter squash including recipes, factoids, and book recommendations, check out the Vermont Harvest of the Month website.
Molly McKendry is a graduate student at the University of Vermont in dietetics, and a dietetic intern.
Baked Delicata Squash with Lime Butter
- 2Delicata squash, halved and seeded
- 3Tbspbutter, softened
- 1Tbspfresh lime juice
- 1tsplime zest
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the squash cut side down into a baking dish. Pour water into dish to about a 1/4 inch deep.
- Bake until squash pierces easily with a fork, about 30 minutes.
- Blend butter with the lime juice and chili powder in a small bowl. Mix in the lime zest and salt and pepper. Spoon the butter mixture into the cooked squash and serve immediately.