Produce Picks: Squash

Learn everything you should know about squash, from its health benefits to best recipes.

Fall Produce- Squash Dinners Overhead Shot as seen on Food Network

Photo by: Alice Gao ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Alice Gao, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Squashes are technically fruits, since they have seeds and are the fruit of the plant that bears them. They are primarily broken down into two types, the latter of which is now in prime season:

  • Summer squashes, whose skins are still tender and edible, are typically harvested in the late spring and summer. They include zucchini (green), yellow, pattypan and cousa.
  • Winter squashes, whose seeds and skins have fully matured and need to be cooked before they are eaten, are harvested in the late summer and fall. Examples include butternut, acorn, spaghetti squash and pumpkins.
Nutrients:

While each squash variety contains a slightly different nutrient mix, they all provide a wealth of fiber and essential vitamins and minerals.

  • One cup of summer squash varieties has about 30 to 40 calories and tends to be a fair sources of fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium, magnesium and manganese.
  • One cup of winter squash varieties tends to be a little more nutrient- and calorie-dense than the same amount of their summer brethren. At about 50 to 75 calories, it’s also a good source of fiber and vitamins A and C as well as a fair source of potassium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin E and a range of different B vitamins.
  • And don’t forget the seeds! A one-ounce serving of seeds contains a nutrient-packed 150 calories, and nearly 20 percent of that is protein. It’s also loaded with healthy fats and rich in a number of minerals, including iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and manganese, as well as vitamin K.
Textures and Flavors:

The mild flavor of most squashes allows them to act as a versatile blank slate for everything from savory pastas and soups to sweet pies and muffins.

Summer squashes have a slightly creamy texture and tend to be less dense than their winter counterparts. They can be prepared with the skin on (washed, of course) in many ways: sliced into long, wide strips and grilled with olive oil and spices; chopped and sauteed as a side dish; baked as a part of casseroles; simmered into veggie soup; cut into long, thin strips used raw for dipping; or shredded as a part of muffins or veggie burgers.

Winter squashes are earthier, and even a little sweet. These squashes need to be cooked. Roasting can bring out a little more of their natural sweetness, especially when they are paired with spices like cinnamon. Cubes of winter squash can be added to salads and stews. When pureed, they can be made into soups, added to batter for pancakes or used in filling for pies. Last but not least is the spaghetti squash, which, when roasted, can be pulled out from its skin in a texture similar to pasta (and topped accordingly).

Crunchy squash and pumpkin seeds can create a nice texture contrast in salads, or on yogurt or oatmeal. Their higher fat content can help carry other flavors when blended into sauces (see recipes below). Or they can simply be part of a trail mix, or roasted and eaten all by themselves!

Food Pairings:

Summer squash goes well with: most more-tender poultry or fish, cheese and other dairy (goat, feta, Parmesan or ricotta), tree nuts (almonds, walnuts or pine nuts), grains like pasta or quinoa, citrus (lemon or orange), apples, raisins, corn, tomatoes, pepper, cumin, garlic, oregano, onions, basil, dill, soy, miso and vinaigrettes.

Winter squash goes well with: heartier meats, poultry or fish, other root veggies (e.g., carrots, parsnips, beets), cheese and other dairy, tree nuts, grains, lentils, apples, pears, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, maple syrup, bacon, curry, paprika, rosemary, sage and thyme.

Squash and pumpkin seeds go well with: cheese, avocado, coconut, dried fruit and yogurt.

Recipes:

Produce Picks is a new series reviewing what makes vegetables and fruits great — their nutrients, textures, food pairings and recipes to get you cooking with them in the kitchen.

Through his book and blog, Death of the Diet  , Jason Machowsky, MS, RD, CSCS, empowers people to live the life they want by integrating healthy eating and physical activity habits into their daily routines. You can follow him on Twitter @JMachowskyRDFit .

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