By Kristen Miller, registered dietitian at CHOC
Winter squash appears in the supermarket during the fall and winter months. They come in many varieties and are often characterized by their thick, hefty rinds and bulky appearance. While the tough exterior may appear intimidating, it also gives the fruit a long shelf life. Winter squash can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to three months!
Various winter squash varieties share the health benefits of being low in calories, fat and cholesterol and high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Three common winter squash varieties found in most supermarkets include acorn squash, butternut squash and spaghetti squash. Here are some of my go-to tips for choosing the right squash and preparing it, as well as a favorite recipe.
Acorn squash has a distinct acorn-like shape and has a mild, buttery-sweet flavor. Choose acorn squash with a dull dark green color, firm rind and smooth exterior. Avoid any that are yellow or orange. The fruit is packed with nutrients, and is specifically high in vitamin C, thiamine and magnesium.
If the rind is too tough to cut, try microwaving for a short time to soften the exterior. Acorn squash can be roasted, sautéed, made into soups or even baked into pies.
Butternut squash can be spotted by its bell shape and has a sweet nutty flavor. Choose butternut squash that has a tan-yellow rind. If you want a slightly sweeter flavor, choose one that is darker orange. But be careful, darker means riper! Make sure to check for soft spots or bruising, as this would indicate rot. The fruit is high in vitamin A, vitamin C and magnesium.
To make butternut squash easier to maneuver, cut the neck and work with the two halves separately. If you want to avoid the knife and cutting board all-together, many popular winter squash varieties, including butternut squash, can be found pre-peeled and cubed. The versatile nature of butternut squash caters to both savory and sweet lovers.
Spaghetti squash has an oblong shape and a very mild flavor. The common supermarket varieties have a yellow rind. Choose a firm spaghetti squash that does not have any bruising. Once cooked, the flesh of spaghetti squash can be fluffed with a fork to form noodle-like strands that resemble spaghetti. The fruit is a good source of vitamin C, manganese and vitamin B-6.
Use the “noodles” mixed with your favorite spaghetti sauce for a vitamin-packed pasta alternative, turn the squash into a burrito bowl, or use in casseroles. See the recipe below for a savory dish that requires minimal ingredients and very little prep work!
- 1 spaghetti squash (medium size)
- ½-1 cup pasta sauce (adjust according to preference)
- ½- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (adjust according to preference)
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
- Optional: fresh garlic (fresh chopped basil , dried oregano or Italian seasoning)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Carefully cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise (before cutting, consider softening in microwave for a few minutes). Remove and discard seeds. Place spaghetti squash cut side down on baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes or until a fork can pierce the shell easily.
- Remove from oven. With a fork, loosen and separate spaghetti squash strands from shell. Reserve shells.
- Place strands in a bowl. Mix strands with pasta sauce (and additional spices, if you wish). Spoon mixture back into the empty shell(s). Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.
- Bake for 7-9 minutes or until cheese is melted, bubbly, and slightly browned. Spoon and serve directly from shell.
For more on CHOC’s clinical nutrition program