By Bill Turner
As a kid, squash was not really a staple. Maybe we’d have it for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but seldom any other time. I remember the small jars of baby food where squash was always in the selection, even though all of our five babies would spit it out. I tried it once and agreed with them. However, I was instructed by the administration that veggies were a must, so I learned to slip in a spoonful of apple sauce and then attack with the squash when they were not ready. That actually worked well, although the looks on little betrayed faces still haunt me. So, all in all, squash was not on the radar. However, a few years ago, while wandering the local farmers market in the fall, we decided to try some of these weird shaped veggies, and it has been a love affair ever since.
Squash is one of the world’s oldest foods. It was grown in Central America over 8,000 years ago. Squash was one of the “Three Sisters” for Native Americans. This was a cultivation technique where maize, beans and squash were all grown together on small mounds with the beans twining up the stalk of the corn while fixing nitrogen in the soil, which the corn and squash need. Squash covered the ground floor keeping out weeds and conserving moisture. Surely squash was a key ingredient in the first Thanksgiving.
There are 20 common varieties of squash. Three of the most popular are butternut, recognized as No. 1; acorn, a traditional favorite; and spaghetti, a trending newcomer. Some of the others have great names such as carnival, delicata, kabocha, and turban. And don’t forget sweet dumpling and eight ball. Another popular variety is the tiny patty pan or sunburst squash. You can visit Foodofy.com to see all of the varieties. Many supermarkets and farmers markets have some of the rarer types in the fall. Give them a try.
GETTING YOUR VITAMINS NATURALLY
Squash is also a recognized superfood. A one cup serving of baked butternut squash has only 82 calories, but let’s assume that any sane person is going to add butter and salt, so we’ll say 100 calories in rough numbers. By the way, one cup of mashed potatoes has 240 calories. But, the low caloric value of squash is just the beginning. One cup of butternut squash has a whopping 457 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin A and 52 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin C. More importantly, your chances of absorbing these vitamins are much higher when you eat real foods like squash rather than by taking supplements. Vitamin A is essential to skin and vision and Vitamin C does a myriad of things. Squash is also rich in minerals such as calcium, iron and potassium. A cup of butternut squash has more potassium than a banana.
Butternut squash is the recognized king of the hill. Other varieties of squash, although good enough to still be called “superfoods,” don’t compare to butternut squash in terms of vitamins and minerals.
The Australians firmly believe that squash has aphrodisiac properties, even though there is not a lot of scientific evidence to support this. One of their national dishes is Australian Pumpkin Soup, which they actually make with butternut squash. If you search on that title, you get 355,000 hits, so there must be something to it. There are thousands of recipes — everyone who cooks in Australia has their own version. We’ll introduce you to our favorite recipe for this dish at right.
Since the most common varieties of squash are butternut, acorn and spaghetti, we’ll start with recipes incorporating these. Needless to say, you should experiment with some of the more exotic varieties when they are available.
The easiest way to get started enjoying squash is to simply bake a butternut or acorn squash in the oven for one hour at 375 F. Let it cool a little, cut it in half, remove the seeds (reserve them if you want to clean and roast them) and scoop out the meat. Add two tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper and serve. Easy and tasty.
Australian Pumpkin Soup
- 1 butternut squash
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 potato – large, diced
- 4 cups chicken broth
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ½ tsp. ground coriander
- 1 tsp. nutmeg (freshly ground if possible)
- 1 tsp. cumin
- Bake the squash as described at left in Squash 101. Set aside the scooped out meat.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot and sauté the onions for about three minutes. Add the garlic and all of the spices and sauté for another 2 minutes.
- Add the potato, squash and chicken broth. Mix well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Use an immersion (preferred) or regular blender to puree the soup.
- Remove from heat, stir in the cream, add a little cracked pepper and serve.
In my opinion, this soup is especially good with either garlic croutons or crusty rustic bread.
Spaghetti Squash with Marina Sauce
I like this recipe because it is quick and easy and much healthier than traditional pasta with marinara sauce. Kids generally love it and two cups have only about 225 calories vs. 550 calories for the pasta version. Here is how to do it:
- 1 spaghetti squash
- 1, 32 oz. jar of marinara sauce (You can make your own, but the prepared versions found in the grocery store are quite good.)
- ½ tsp. red pepper flakes (optional, but really adds some zest to the dish)
- ½ tsp. salt and pepper
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Bake the squash for one hour at 375 F.
- Let cool, cut in half and scoop out the seeds.
- Warm the marinara sauce in a large saucepan, large enough to hold the spaghetti squash. Add the red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
- Use a regular fork to pull out the strands of spaghetti squash and set aside in a bowl. When finished, add to the marinara sauce and mix well.
- Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and crusty bread
Roasted Acorn Squash With Sesame Seeds and Cumin
The idea for this recipe came from Martha Stewart who is a great fan of acorn squash. She has 25 different recipes. This one is easy to make and really tasty.
- 2 acorn squash
- 4 Tbsp. sesame seeds
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- ¼ cup of olive oil
- 1 tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. pepper
- Preheat oven to 375 F.
- Cut the squash in half and remove seeds. Cut into 1” slices.
- Put all of the remaining ingredients including the olive oil into a large mixing bowl; add the squash slices and mix thoroughly.
- Pour the coated slices onto a rimmed baking sheet and pop into the oven for 25 minutes or until tender and golden.