Everything you need to know about winter squash

winter squash

Winter squash is up there with pumpkin spice and sweater weather when it comes to the highlights of fall.

To some, the large, tough-skinned vegetables may be intimidating. Let’s break down what you need to know to get ready for the season!

Selection

Each variety of squash has its own distinct shape, color and size, but most share a somewhat-nutty, sweet flavor. Buying squash at farmers markets is a great way to get to know new varieties, since you can talk directly to expert growers who can recommend the best squash.

In general, choose small-to-medium size squash that feel heavy for their size. Squash dries out over time, resulting in less desirable flavor and texture.

Small scratches and blemishes are completely fine, but avoid squash with dark or soft spots.

Storage

Winter squash will keep for several months in a cool area of your house (think pioneer-time vegetable cellar).

Preparation

There are probably as many ways to prepare winter squash as there are varieties, but they all start with the same few steps:

  1. Scrub the squash under running water to remove any dirt.
  2. Use a large, sharp knife to remove the knobby stem.
  3. Cut the squash in half by inserting the tip of the knife firmly and cutting through the squash lengthwise.
  4. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.

At this point, depending on what you are making, it is time to choose your own adventure.

You can roast the halves, cut side down on a baking sheet at 375 until tender (about 30–40 minutes). Or you can cube the squash before roasting, sautéing, boiling or steaming.

You do not need to peel winter squash unless you are working with extremely tough skinned varieties. Butternut, delicata and acorn squash do not need to be peeled. In fact, the peels add great color, fiber and texture to recipes!

The recipe below for squash and cheese dip comes from the Mill City Farmers Market, offering winter markets inside the Mill City Museum (no admission required) select Saturdays through April, including 10 a.m.–1 p.m. Nov 17.

Find more information at millcityfarmersmarket.org.


Squash and Cheese Dip

Squash and Cheese Dip

Courtesy of the Mill City Farmers Market
This crowd-pleasing recipe calls for Red Kuri squash and is a great way to get to know a new variety of that can be found at the farmers market. Red Kuri is medium-sized, reddish orange hard-skinned squash. Recipe makes about 4 cups.

  • 1 medium-large red kuri or other sweet squash, washed and cut in half lengthwise, seeds scooped out
  • 2 teaspoons plus 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 cup grated Burr Oak cheese from Shepherd’s Way Farm (or substitute parmesan)
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup cream (optional)
  • Sliced vegetables or fresh bread, for serving

Preheat oven to 425. Rub each half of the squash with a teaspoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place cut-side down on a baking sheet, on top of the thyme sprigs. Roast until tender, about 45 minutes.

Heat the extra tablespoon of olive oil in a medium pan. Cook the onions until well caramelized and soft, and set aside.

When the squash has cooled, scoop out the flesh and mash roughly with a fork. Add the cheese, the leaves from the roasted thyme sprigs, nutmeg and salt. Stir in the cream and caramelized onions.

Scoop into a shallow oven-safe ceramic or glass dish, top with more cheese and bake for 8–10 minutes. Serve with seasonal veggies or fresh bread for dipping.

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