Food 101: Pumpkin and other Winter Squash
Fall is my very favourite season. The leaves are changing to beautiful orange, yellow and red colours and the weather is sunny and perfectly crisp, all you need is a light jacket (most of the time). The other thing that I really love about fall is the foods that are in season…specifically pumpkin and other winter squash. While the first thing you may think about when I bring up pumpkin is likely the infamous pumpkin spice latte, there are so many other (and likely healthier) ways to add more pumpkin, and other delicious winter squash, to your life.
Winter squash are one of the richest sources of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, helping to protect against colds and the flu all season long. Winter squash are also very high in fibre and has been found to help with keeping blood sugar levels stable.
- A fat soluble vitamin important for normal day and night vision, normal growth and development and promoting a healthy immune defense system and reproductive system.
- Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants that can help to prevent heart disease and some forms of cancer. Some of these carotenoids (such as beta carotene) are precursors to vitamin A and are the reason why squash is such a great source of vitamin A.
- Carotenoids are also responsible for the bright orange colour of the squash as they are powerful plant pigments (they can also be red and yellow)
- A water soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant and is important for proper wound healing, infection prevention and helps our bodies to absorb iron better.
- Fibre is important for keeping your bowels regular and healthy and is beneficial to help to lower your blood cholesterol levels and keep your blood sugar levels stable.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
- A water soluble B vitamin that has an important role in the production of red blood cells, metabolism of carbohydrates and is required for proper production of messaging molecules in our brain and nervous system.
- Manganese is a trace mineral that is important for bone formation, skin integrity, blood sugar control, and works as an antioxidant in the body preventing cell damage from free radicals.
- A mineral found in many fruits and vegetables that is crucial for maintaining for normal blood pressure and kidney health.
Winter Squash Varieties:
There are so many different types of winter squash such, all having similar health benefits as above:
- Acorn squash
- Butternut squash
- Buttercup squash
- Delicata squash
- Hubbard squash
- Kabocha squash
- Red kuri pumpkin
- Spaghetti squash
- Sugar pie pumpkins
- Sweet dumpling squash
- White pumpkin
How to select and store
When selecting a winter squash, choose one that is firm and heavy for their size. The rind should be hard and be sure to inspect of any areas that are soft or moldy.
Winter squash has a very long storage life, much longer than summer squash, due to their very hard skin. Depending on the variety, it can be kept for a week to six months. Ideally squash should be stored in a cool environment and should not be subjected to extreme heat or cold. Once cut, squash can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days. You can also freeze squash by cutting it first and freezing in individual portions for use in recipes.
How to prepare
Most types of squash can be prepared both in the oven and microwave. Roasting squash in the oven helps to bring out the sweetness of the squash and is my favourite way to prepare squash but microwaving a squash is a very simple and quick way to prepare a squash.
When preparing a squash to roast you can either peel and chop up the squash into edible pieces first or simply cut the squash in half lengthwise down the middle, scoop out the seeds, drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and roast. You cannot eat the skin on most types of squash (your intestines won’t like you very much) and squash are infamous for being difficult to cut and peel so be sure to use a very sharp knife and watch out for those fingers! Alternatively, these days you can often find pre-cut/peeled fresh squash (often butternut) so all you have to do is drizzle with oil and throw it in the oven!
To microwave squash you can simply cut the squash in half lengthwise and place face down on a place with a tablespoon of water underneath and microwave. The length of time to cook a squash depends on the variety and size so be sure to look that up before cooking. Your squash will be done when soft and tender.
Different ways to enjoy winter squash
- After roasting or microwaving spaghetti squash, use a fork to “rake” out the inside of the squash, this will make the squash look like spaghetti and you can top this with your favourite pasta sauce or pesto.
- Add ¼ cup of pureed pumpkin (or canned) to your oatmeal and add a dash of pumpkin pie spice for pumpkin pie oatmeal.
- Simply roast squash with a drizzle of olive oil, maple syrup and a dash of cinnamon for a delicious side dish.
- Add cubed squash to your favourite soup or chili recipe.
- Make Pumpkin Chocolate Chip bread using this delicious recipe.
- Make a silky comforting butternut squash soup using this recipe.
- Add ¼ cup of pureed pumpkin to cottage cheese with pumpkin pie spice and a drizzle of maple syrup (this almost tastes like pumpkin cheesecake!).
- Add chunks of roasted squash to your favourite salad recipe.
- Use half of an acorn squash as a bowl and stuff with your favourite warm grain salad or chili recipe after roasting.
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