Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Nutritious, easy-to-cook winter squash

By David Burton
University Extension

Winter squash can add to the nutritional value of any meal. However, many people do not purchase them because they don’t know how to prepare them according to Tammy Roberts, nutrition and health education specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

Some of the more common winter squash include acorn, buttercup, butternut, calabaza, delicate, Hubbard, spaghetti, sweet dumpling and Terk’s Turban.

“When purchasing, look for a squash that is firm and intact. It should also be heavy for its size with a dull-colored skin. A dull-colored skin indicates the squash was picked when it was fully ripe. A shiny winter squash can be an indicator that it will have less flavor,” said Roberts.

To cook winter squash, cut the squash in two and place it cut side down on a shallow baking dish and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or longer. It is done when it is fork tender. After it cools, spoon out the soft flesh and mash with a fork or use a blender or food processor to make a squash puree.

Small winter squash can be pierced several times with a fork or other sharp instrument and baked whole. Piercing prevents the shell from bursting during cooking. Place the pierced squash on an oven-safe dish and bake at 325 degrees for 1.5 to two hours. Test for doneness by squeezing the shell. When it gives with pressure, it is done.

“Any type of mashed or pureed squash can be used in the place of canned pumpkin in soups, pies, cookies or quick breads,” said Roberts.

Chunks of squash can be added to soups, stews and casseroles. Winter squash can also be mixed with onions, garlic and herbs as a side dish or mixed with other vegetables such as corn, tomatoes and bell pepper for a tasty dish.

According to Roberts, winter squash are a good source of potassium and vitamin A. They also contain vitamin C, folic acid, pantothenic acid and copper. One-half cup of cooked squash provides only 40 calories.
“Go ahead and buy a winter squash next time you hit the produce aisle. It will last for over a month on your kitchen counter as you decide how you would like to prepare it. If you store it in a cool place away from light, it can last up to six months,” said Roberts.

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