The wonderful world of winter squash

Published 6:05 pm Saturday, November 3, 2012

Fall brings the new crop of hard-shelled squash to the grocery store. These winter squash add an abundance of super nutrients to the table.

Orange-fleshed squashes are especially high in beta-carotene, a nutrient important for healthy skin, immune system and night vision. A half-cup of cooked orange-flesh winter squash provides about 50 calories, a nutritional bargain.

Squash is easy to cook by following the cooking tips below.  One important tip before cooking as it is easy to forget because you are eating the inside of the squash only — wash your squash.  Dirt and bacteria can be easily transferred from the outside in when slicing your knife through the skin.

 Cooking Directions:

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Get squash ready to use in a wide assortment of recipes from soup to dessert by baking, steaming or boiling. Roasting enhances squash’s natural sweetness.

•Bake: Cut in half, remove seeds and place cut-side down in a baking dish. Fill baking dish with one-half inch of water.  Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until fork tender.  Scoop flesh for recipes using cooked squash. Or leave squash in the skin to make a bowl and add other toppings.

•Roast: Cut squash into chunks that are easy to hold in your hand, peel with sturdy vegetable peeler, cut into smaller chunks if desired and toss with olive oil and seasonings. Place on a foil-lined shallow baking pan and roast at 475 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Roast until they’re fork-tender.

•Steam or boil: Cook peeled chunks in a small amount of simmering water or in a steamer until tender. Season and serve.

•Microwave: Use a sharp knife and puncture squash in various places of the flesh. Microwave for approximately five minutes. Rotate a quarter turn and microwave 5 minutes. Repeat process until all four sides have been facing up and fork tender.


Winter squash primer

•Butternut: Tan shell makes these easy to spot. Similar in flavor and texture to sweet potatoes.

•Acorn: Looks like a large green acorn. Sweet buttery yellow-orange flesh.

•Buttercup: Dark green shell with lighter green spots.  Deep-yellow flesh with slightly nutty flavor

•Spaghetti: Stringy flesh resembles cooked spaghetti. Use as a very low-calorie alternate to pasta dishes.

Roasted winter squash and mozzarella quesadillas

Serves 6, 30 minutes prep time

Whether you prefer sweet or savory, winter squash fits both tastes. Try this flavorful recipe featuring butternut squash.

This recipe will warm your taste buds and your belly now and any time of the year.

 All you need

•6 cups cubed butternut squash

•1½ cups diced red bell peppers

•1 tablespoon diced garlic

•1 tablespoon olive oil

•2 dashes salt

•2 dashes black pepper

•¾ cup diced tomatoes

•6 tablespoons diced onion

•3 tablespoons chopped cilantro, divided

•6 (8-inch) whole wheat tortillas

•1½ cups shredded fat-free mozzarella cheese, divided

•½ cup trimmed, thinly sliced green onions

 All you do

1. Preheat oven to 400° F

2. Mix the butternut squash, red pepper and garlic with olive oil, salt and black pepper.

3. Spread squash/peppers mixture on a foil-lined cookie sheet and roast for 20 minutes until they are tender and slightly caramelized.

4. While the squash mixture is cooking, combine the diced tomatoes and onions. Add 1 tablespoon of     cilantro. Set aside to be used as salsa.

5. Lay tortillas on parchment-lined baking sheets. Place 1/4 cup mozzarella on one-half of each tortilla.

6. Distribute roasted squash mixture evenly on top of the cheese, followed by green onions and remaining cilantro. Fold tortillas in half to form quesadillas.

7. Place in a 200 degree oven for five minutes, until the cheese is melted. Serve with fresh salsa on the side of the quesadilla.

Tip: For easer cutting, soften small squash by cooking in the microwave oven on HIGH for 3 to 5 minutes or until shell can be pierced with a knife.

Source: Recipe courtesy of Recipes for Healthy Kids.

Nutrition facts per serving: 290 calories, 6g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 46 g carbohydrate, 7 g fiber, 15g protein, 530 mg sodium