Squash and pumpkin

Winter squashes will stay fresh longer than their summer cousins, but still make for great meals through the cold months.

ELKTON — As the weather gets cooler, it’s time to enjoy some of the many varieties of winter squash that are currently available at the grocery store or local farm markets.

These hearty vegetables are actually harvested in the fall but are called winter squash because they store well all winter long. Compared to their “summer cousins,” zucchini and yellow squash, winter squash has a denser texture and flavor, making them perfect for casseroles, stews, hearty soups, breads and even desserts. They are also very rich in fiber, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and beta carotene, a healthy plant substance that gives them their vibrant yellow and orange colors. The most common varieties of winter squash found in supermarkets are acorn, delicata, spaghetti and butternut.

Acorn squash is one of the smaller squashes. If you’ve never had a variety of winter squash this is a good one to try. One of my favorite ways to prepare it is to slice in half, scoop out the seeds and brush the flesh with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast it cut-side down on a baking sheet with edges at 400 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Once it cools for a few minutes, scoop it out with a spoon and enjoy!

Delicata squash is sometimes called peanut squash or Bohemian squash. Its pulp or flesh is creamy and tastes like sweet like corn or sweet potatoes. What’s unique about this winter squash is that the skin is soft and can be eaten. The best way to enjoy delicata squash is to bake it or steam it.

Spaghetti squash is also called noodle squash because when it’s cooked, the flesh separates into strands that looks like spaghetti pasta. Spaghetti squash is delicious and has a mild nut-like flavor. When buying it, choose one that is very yellow because it will be the ripest and best to eat.

Butternut squash tastes very much like sweet potatoes. It has a deep-orange flesh with a sweet, nutty flavor, like butterscotch. For a ripe, sweet butternut squash, choose one that is very orange. Because butternut is a bit more watery than other winter squashes, it is great for making soup.

Are you ready to try one of these delicious (and nutritious) fall favorite foods? Here are some tips for selecting, storing and making winter squash.

Selecting: Look for squash that has a firm exterior without soft spots. The rind of winter squashes actually becomes even firmer as they ripen. You can do the tap test to see if the squash is ripe. Knock on the skin with your knuckle: if it sounds hollow, it is ripe; if it sounds dull, the squash may be under-ripe or spoiled.

Storing: You should store ripe winter squash in a cool dark area in your kitchen. You can refrigerate cut pieces, but use them within five days. When stored properly, some winter squash varieties can last several months, but for the best nutrient content and flavor use them within one month of buying them.

Preparing: Winter squash retains its best flavors when it’s roasted, boiled (in a small amount of water), steamed, or simmered like in a stew or soup. Roasting squash is very popular because it helps caramelize and bring out the natural sugar flavor in the squash.

Are you ready to experience the great taste of winter squashes or looking for a new dish for Thanksgiving? You can find some great winter squash recipes on Allrecipe.com.

Like pumpkin seeds, squash seeds make great snacks too. Check out this winter squash seed recipe on the same website: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/54873/roasted-winter-squash-seeds/

Happy Thanksgiving!

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