While it doesn’t get the recognition of its larger, orange cousin the pumpkin, winter squash can more than hold its own as a great gourd. Packed with nutrition and flavor, squash is a versatile favorite finding its way into more kitchens.

Winter squash is high in vitamin A, vital for eye development and skin health. The butternut variety, for example, contains more than 400 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) in a single cup. It also provides half the RDA for vitamin C and is a rich source of potassium, magnesium and soluble fiber, which has been shown to improve cholesterol levels.

There are dozens of varieties of squash, including the popular buttercup, acorn, Hubbard and cushaw. According to information from the University of Illinois Extension, squash can be grown in most of the continental United States. Winter squash is harvested and eaten when it has fully matured and the skin has hardened to a tough rind, allowing it to be stored for use throughout the winter.

Winter squash has a sweet flavor and can be hard to discern from pumpkin when used in a holiday pie. In fact, many cooks prefer winter squash to pumpkin because the squash makes a smooth pie.

Squash has a long history and was one of the Three Sisters crops cultivated by Native Americans that were passed on to colonial settlers. As it grows it provides ground cover to hold in the soil’s moisture and maintain a healthy soil environment while deterring animal invaders with its prickly stems.

Squash plants require a large growing space, best suited for large gardens. However, there are bush and semi-vining varieties that can be grown in smaller gardens.

One way to prepare a winter squash is in the oven. Carefully cut the squash in half with a large knife or cleaver. In some cases, you may need to gently tap the back of the blade with a hammer to help pierce the rind. Scoop out the seeds. Bake in the oven at 350 F for 30 minutes or until the fleshy part of the squash is tender. Let it cool, then scoop out, season and serve.

A small acorn or spaghetti squash can be pierced in several places and cooked at 325 F for approximately two hours in the oven. Squeeze the shell with an oven mitt; when it starts to give, you know it’s done.

Seize the seeds

 

Healthy and delicious, squash seeds can be prepared the same way as pumpkin seeds. Simply separate from the pulp, arrange on a cookie sheet in a single layer and cook for 15-20 minutes at 300 F. Season with cinnamon and sugar or any number of savory spices for a great winter treat.

 

Need a Superfood recipe? Try one of these:

Winter squash soup

Roasted shrimp and spaghetti squash

Butternut squash ratatouille