Winter squash, a relative of both the melon and the cucumber, come in many different varieties. We will have lots of different varieties coming onto the stand over the next several weeks—first will be the Cucurbita pepo varieties including acorn, pie pumpkin, delicata, carnival and sweet dumpling. After that we will have the Cucurbita moschata, butternut squashes, and then later will be the Cucurbita maxima varieties including the sunshine kabocha and buttercup. I want to tell you about some of them that you may not be familiar with.
The delicata are the longish cream-colored fruits with dark green longitudinal stripes and flecks. They are very sweet and are excellent for stuffing, roasting and baking. The sweet dumplings are small, about 4″ in diameter teacup-shaped fruits. They have the ivory color and dark green stripes of delicata, but in a round, flat-topped shape and dainty, single-serving size. They are also very sweet with tender orange flesh. The carnivals are like a multicolored Sweet Dumpling but are about twice as big. They have colorful patches and flecks of dark green, light green, orange, and yellow and are a popular specialty market variety. The kabocha squashes are also round and can be either green or orange, and the buttercups are similar to the kabochas but with a “button” on the blossom end.
We are just beginning to discover the wealth of nourishment supplied by the mildly sweet flavored and finely textured winter squashes. Each type has a hard, protective skin that is difficult to pierce, which allows for their long storage potential, while still providing an outstanding variety of conventional nutrients. Winter squash is an excellent source of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene and a very good source of vitamin C, potassium, manganese and dietary fiber. One of the most abundant nutrients in winter squash, beta-carotene, has been shown to have very powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Depending on the variety, winter squash can be kept for up to six months! Keep it away from direct exposure to light. It also should not be exposed to extreme heat or cold, with the ideal temperature for storing winter squash between 50-60°F. After washing cut the squash in half and remove the seeds and fibrous material in the cavity. Depending upon your recipe it can be used either peeled or not peeled and really is quite versatile. Winter squash can be baked in the oven with its thick rind still on, roasted, steamed and pureed or baked in a pie, savory or sweet. You can top puréed or mashed winter squash with cinnamon and maple syrup, steam cubes of winter squash and toss with olive oil and herbs, use as a traditional filling for stuffed pastas like ravioli and tortellini and add cubes of winter squash to your favorite vegetable soup recipe. It’s nice to have such a great variety to choose from—be sure to try them all!