Healthy plate: It’s time for savory winter squash

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 20, 2010 

They may look weird or scary, but don’t be afraid. Winter squash — those hard-shelled varieties showing up in stores and farmer’s markets — are chock-full of vitamins, nutrients and flavor.

Why are they called “winter” when they grow in summer? Because these squash (unlike their thin-skinned cousins) can keep for weeks, even months — without refrigeration.

Winter squash retain their sugar (and sweet taste) longer when stored at room temperature. Chilling actually degrades the squash. When they’re refrigerated, their sugar can turn to starch. Recent University of California, Davis, and Oregon State University studies showed that winter squash keeps best stored at 50 to 59 degrees, with moderate humidity and good ventilation. Any colder and they went bad rapidly.

California ranks among the nation’s leading producers of winter squash (including pumpkins), second only to Florida. And we’re eating more squash, usually fresh — up to 4.2 pounds per person per year. Americans average about 1 pound of canned or processed squash per year — mostly pumpkin or baby food.

Some varieties of winter squash are so pretty that they’re used more for decoration than food. But try some on your plate — you may be surprised.

@BR Body Subhed:Why eat it?

Winter squash is high in beta-carotene and has relatively few calories. That’s why it has that great orange color.

It’s also high in fiber and dense with other nutrients. In general, the darker the squash, the more vitamins it has. A half-cup of mashed acorn or butternut squash has 60 calories, but three times the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A. (It’s also high in vitamin C and cancer-fighting phytonutrients.)

The easiest way to cook winter squash: Roast it.

Cut the squash in half or into large chunks or slices. (Peeling optional.) Remove seeds.

Place squash in a baking dish. Brush with olive oil or melted butter if desired, then roast in a preheated, 350-degree oven until soft (about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces).

Or microwave it: This method works great with acorn, Carnival or Sweet Dumpling squash.

Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Place squash cut-side down on a microwave-safe pie plate. Cover with waxed paper or plastic wrap.

Microwave on high for six to eight minutes (depending on size of squash). Turn the squash over and test for doneness with a fork.

If desired, add a little butter and brown sugar to the center; cover. Microwave on high for two more minutes.

To cook spaghetti squash: Pierce it deeply two or three times with a long fork to prevent it from exploding, then bake at 350 degrees for about 90 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a knife. Cut it in half and remove the strands of flesh with a fork. Serve the strands with tomato sauce, as you would pasta.

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