There are so many types of squash being harvested during the autumn season. Many folks may grow them in their garden and are surprised when veggies sprout that they’re not too familiar with! Others may see squash in the grocery store and have no idea what to do with it, and therefore can’t benefit from the myriad nutrient value it offers.

Of course, the first step to enjoying squash is finding a recipe that appeals to you. Learning how to prepare and handle this veggies is the next step. Autumn/winter squash have tough skin, and can be tricky to simply cut. One way to make this a bit easier is to put the washed, whole squash into the microwave for 30 seconds to one minute, until it is tender enough to get a knife into (continue to microwave on high for 30 seconds at a time until you can get a knife into it more easily. You don’t want to cook the squash however.)

How to Cook Squash

Almost any winter squash – butternut, acorn, patty pan, spaghetti – can be simply baked. Slice squash in half. Scoop out pulp and seeds (some look similar to pumpkins). Place squash halves, cut side up, into a glass baking dish. Add about a quarter to half inch of water to pan. Add 1-2 teaspoons of butter to each half, a pinch of salt, and bake for 45 minutes, or until fork tender, at 375 degrees. Acorn squash also tastes wonderful with a tablespoon of brown sugar or maple syrup added to each half. They can simply be served like this – cut into single serving pieces.

You can also simply bake the squash until just fork tender (not overly cooked), and then cut it away from skin, and cube into small cubes for cooking in another dish (such as a gratin). Butternut and acorn squash can often be interchanged in recipes as they are slightly sweeter. I think fresh rosemary pairs well with these types of squash. Butternut can also be peeled, and then cut in half, pulp and seeds removed, and cubed before cooking.

Spaghetti squash gets its name from its look. Once cooked, the squash pulls away from the skin in the form of pasta strings. This can be enjoyed with butter and Parmesan cheese, or it can be topped with fresh tomato sauce.

Patty pan squash is an excellent squash to stuff and bake. You can do a vegetarian stuffing of bread crumbs, sauteed onions, carrots, mushrooms, celery, and herbs, or you can try a meat stuffing. Either way you’ll enjoy a nutritious one-dish meal. I enjoy a savory sausage type stuffing, and it’s easy to prepare. Even though sausage is high in saturated fat and sodium, you don’t need to use a large portion to make enough stuffing for one large squash. Remove casings from one large sausage link and cook in pan until browned. Drain any excess fat, add minced onion, celery, and season with ground pepper and fresh or dried rosemary. Remove from heat, add a quarter cup of bread crumbs, one egg, and mix well. Spoon stuffing into halved squash, top with 2 tablespoons of shredded cheese. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until squash in fork tender.

Nutrient Powerhouses

Summer squash contains more water than fall/winter varieties, and therefore isn’t as nutrient dense. Winter squash is an excellent source of beta carotene, as well as B vitamins and vitamin C. These nutrients help reduce the risks of some cancers, and heart disease risk. Its rich in fiber, which helps keep its glycemic load low. Squash is a great food to include when you are on a weight reduction program or have diabetes. It’s filling, low in calories but high in fiber, and therefore allows you to eat less overall.

So search for a great recipe, and try something new. Let me know how delicious it is!