Colorful fall squash are flavorful and nutritious

Published on Tuesday, 15 October 2013 23:00 - Written by CHRISTINE GARDNER food@tylerpaper.com

A couple of weeks ago I went into the grocery store and saw the most beautiful squash that were covered with a green and yellow geometric pattern. They were similar in shape to acorn squash but were rounder and wider at the top. I looked at the sticker and it said confetti squash (also known as carnival squash.)

The next week I was shopping again and noticed another long, round, thick squash that was yellow with green stripes. The label on these said delicata squash. Always ready to accept a produce challenge I bought two of them.

So, of course, I am wondering if there is really any difference in all of these fall squash varieties. I have cooked acorn, butternut and spaghetti squash many times, and throughout the winter and fall often prepare these seasonal gourds as a substitute for potatoes.

With each of the varieties you can easily prepare by either microwaving or baking. Typically, regardless of the squash, I will microwave for two minutes so they are easier to cut. Once you carefully cut them open, scoop out the seeds and continue to microwave until soft, flesh side down, in a dish with a small amount. If I want a roasted flavor or have some of the flesh caramelize then I finish it in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the size and thickness of the squash.

Over the past week I cooked acorn, confetti, delicata, butternut and spaghetti squash. I wanted to be able to distinguish between the different flavors, so the preparation was the same each time: Rub the oil into the flesh and roast – flesh side down – and Microwave briefly to soften, slice down the middle, scoop out the seeds, place on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, then roast at 400 degrees until tender and cooked through.

Acorn and confetti squash tasted very similar, but the confetti tasted sweeter and almost buttery. It was definitely my favorite. The delicata, being long and narrow had a beautiful presentation on the plate and would have looked nice stuffed with rice or cheese with breadcrumbs. They were like little canoes on the plate.

The texture for all of them was the same, except for the spaghetti squash. Once that is cooked, if you run a fork through the interior of the squash, long strands are pulled out and they are similar to an angel hair pasta. Just toss with a little olive oil and herbs, or maybe some pesto and you have a small side of seasoned spaghetti squash strands.

What’s interesting is that they don’t turn mushy. Even after I microwaved some leftovers and served them again with some saut←ed mushrooms, the strands were still firm and had a nice crunch. Spaghetti squash is not as sweet as acorn or confetti squash, but it does have a buttery flavor that is similar to butternut squash.

The butternut squash I cooked for a very long time. Because it is the most dense, and doesn’t have as much of a core as the other squash, it will take longer to cook. I also wanted it to be very soft because I was going to mash it and mix with ricotta cheese to make as a filling for lasagna.

Butternut is also the only squash that is easy to peel. The others have more ridges and are slightly bumpy. Many are also too round to peel properly. This time I left it unpeeled, cut it into six sections, rubbed it with the oil, salt and pepper and roasted it at 350 for about two hours. I actually forgot it was still in the oven and thought it might be burnt, but it was actually just right. After cooling I was able to scoop the flesh out of the skin and easily mash it with a fork.

I hope you get a chance to try some of these squash while they are in season and prices are low. One acorn, delicata or confetti squash can be halved to feed two people. Same with a spaghetti squash. Actually half of a spaghetti squash, after its cooked and pulled into strands could be a full meal. Top it with some grilled chicken or shrimp and you have a simple entr←e.

Remember to use caution when cutting, as the knife may stick and have difficulty cutting through the squash. Do not force the knife or cut on an unstable surface. All of these squash can be stored at room temperature for up to a month or longer in the refrigerator.

All squashes provide vitamin A and vitamin C, some of the B vitamins and are a good source of fiber. One cup of cooked squash contains about 100 calories. Deep-colored squashes offer the most beta carotene.

Acorn Squash: Available in dark green, white, red and yellow-orange, acorn squash have a taste similar to the combination of hazelnuts and black pepper. They are sweet in flavor with a creamy texture. The exterior has wide ribs and crevices and makes this squash difficult to peel.

Some ways to prepare include slicing it in half and roasting; slice in wedges, toss in salt, pepper, butter and honey and roast; roast skin side down, cut in half and seeded, scoop out flesh and puree to serve mashed or in soups; or serve halved and roasted with rice or stuffing in the middle.

Butternut Squash: This familiar squash is bottle-shaped and light orange in color. Its finely textured flesh is bright orange and sweet in flavor that is reminiscent of sweet potatoes.

Some ways to prepare include roasting or steaming and pureeing to use in soups, sauces, pies or muffins; mash and eat like potatoes, cut into cubes, roast and toss with pasta, salad or other vegetables

Butternut Squash is a good source of vitamins A and C, potassium and iron.

Spaghetti Squash: Named for its golden spaghetti-like strands of flesh, spaghetti squash is a smooth, yellow watermelon shaped squash. Once cooked, the strands of flesh can be separated with a fork, removed from the shell and served like pasta.

Some ways to prepare include tossing with your favorite pasta sauce; or mixing with a cheesy white sauce in a baking dish and baked into a casserole; or add an egg and other seasoning and form into patties for spaghetti squash pancakes.

Spaghetti squash is packed with fiber and vitamin C.

Confetti or Carnival Squash: Distinguished by its deeply furrowed top-shape and of course, its variegated pattern of orange, yellow and green colors. The Carnival squash’s thick exterior contains spotted and striped colors of white, orange, yellow and green, depending on its level of maturity. The presence of post-harvest green coloring indicates that the squash is still at its peak maturity. As the squashes ages, it will eventually only maintain orange and cream colors. After cooking, its flesh becomes rich, buttery, nutty and sweet.

Delicata Squash: Oblong and cylindrical, the Delicata squash is a creamy-yellowish color with green, sometimes orange, vertical stripes. These squash are generally 5-6 inches in length and 2-3 inches in diameter. The delicata has firm, fine-grained, yellow to orange flesh that is sweet, rich, and moist, much like a sweet potato. Delicata squash hold their shape well through cooking, making them a good choice for stuffing with grains, meats or cheese, and baking. Peel or leave skin on and roast. Braise, steam, stew or boil diced squash and add to soups or purees. Slice into rings, removing seeds, and roast with oil, herbs or spices.

 

Butternut Squash Lasagna with Walnut Breadcrumbs

 

INGREDIENTS

 

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 yellow onion, halved and sliced thin

1 cup sliced mushrooms

6 sage leaves, chopped

1 box of Barilla oven-ready lasagna

1 1/2cups ricotta cheese

1 1/2 cups butternut squash puree

1 1/2 cups milk

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup shredded mozzarella

salt and pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup grated parmesan

1 cup toasted walnuts

1 cup bread crumbs, preferably homemade

1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage leaves

2 tablespoons olive oil

 

DIRECTIONS

Saut← the onion and mushrooms over medium heat until soft and slightly caramelized. When still warm, add the chopped sage leaves and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool. In a mixing bowl combine the ricotta and butternut squash. Stir to combine. In a saucepan, over low heat, combine the flour and butter to make a light colored roux. Begin whisking in the milk and heat through. Add the squash mixture and continue stirring until heated through. Begin adding the mozzarella until melted and completely incorporated. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool slightly. In a 9 x 13 baking pan, spread the olive oil over the bottom of the pan with about 1/2 cup of the sauce. Cover the sauce with pieces of lasagna. Begin layering the sauce, onions and more lasagna pieces until all of the lasagna is used. Spread the last bit of sauce over the top of the lasagna and top with the parmesan. Place in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the walnuts, bread crumbs and sage leaves. Process while drizzling in the oil until it becomes a fine crumbly mixture. After 20 minutes, remove the lasagna from the oven and scatter the crumb mixture over the top of the lasagna. Bake for an additional 20 minutes until the lasagna is tender and heated through. Garnish with additional grated parmesan. Note: Easily make homemade breadcrumbs with leftover, stale bread. Simply, process in a food processor and store in the freezer. You can use stale slices – white or wheat, baguettes, rolls, buns, etc. Mine are typically a mixture of all of these.