MIRANDA ANSPACH: Coming into fall with winter squash

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Fall is officially here with its colder days and longer nights. Fall brings with it the harvest of squash, a welcomed gift from the summer’s work that has ended.

Along with its abundance and affordability, winter squash offer many health benefits. They are rich in vitamin A and carotenoids which have been shown to boost immunity, promote healthy skin and promote eye health. Winter squash are also considered good sources of fiber.

Winter squash comes in a variety of types, colors, and tastes. Described here are the common squash found in stores and how to prepare them.

Acorn squash are shaped like acorns, hence the name. They are most commonly found with dark green outer skins but can come in yellow, tan or orange. The flesh inside is a light orange color. The flavor is mild, with a sweet subtle nutty flavor. Choose one that is firm on the outside. You can bake, roast, steam or microwave acorn squash.

Buttercup squash are dark green, cup-shaped squash. The flesh inside is bright orange color. It has a distinguishable round ridge on its bottom. Choose a squash that is heavy for its size. The flavor of buttercup squash is sweet and creamy. It can be considered one of the sweeter winter squash. It is best to steam or bake buttercup squash.

Butternut squash are tan and shaped like bowling pins. The flesh is bright orange. This is the sweetest of the winter squash. They can be roasted or sautéed. They are also very suitable for making into a puree or soup.

Hubbard squash are lesser known. They are commonly found with orange skin but can also be green, gray or blue. Hubbard squash have a sweet flavor similar to pumpkin. It can be used in baking, cooking and even used in pie.

Spaghetti squash are long and shaped like cylinders. They have a pale exterior that can range from cream to yellow in color. The flesh, when cooked, develops into strands that are similar in looks to spaghetti, in which it gets its name. Although it looks like spaghetti, the taste is different. Its flavor is mild and it has a chewy, tender texture. It can be roasted or steamed. The strands can be scraped out and used in place of pasta with marinara or pesto.

Winter squash is available now and into the winter months. You can find them at the grocery store, at local farmer’s markets, or perhaps, in families and friends’ backyard gardens. Cooked squash can be incorporated into sauces, soups, stir fry or pasta dishes.

Now is a great time to start trying the varieties of squash. You may only like one type, or like them all. Either way, these fall delicatessens will add flavor and health benefits to your plate.

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Miranda Anspach is a senior in the University of Idaho Coordinated Program in Dietetics.

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