Squash are gourds, fleshy vegetables protected by a rind, that belong to the same family as melons and cucumbers. Some grow on vines and some on bushes and they are commonly divided into two groups: summer squash and winter squash. These days you can usually find both types throughout most of the year. A good way to distinguish between the two is that summer squash have soft shells and are picked when they are immature and winter squash have hard shells and are not harvested until maturity, when their shells (and usually their seeds) are not edible.
Because of their protective shells, winter squash have a rather long shelf life; some can keep for up to three months at home and even longer at a commercial facility. The yellow or orange flesh of winter squash is darker than that of summer varieties. Winter squash is rich in complex carbohydrates, beta carotene, and vitamin A. They have just a trace of fat and sodium and are cholesterol free.
All varieties of squash are great for baking and pureeing. Once squash is cooked and mashed, it can be used in soups, main dishes, breads, muffins and pies.
When selecting winter squash at the grocery store, choose firm, well shaped squash that are heavy for their size and have a hard tough skin. The longer winter squash grows, the sweeter it will be, so you don’t have to worry about selecting an “overgrown” squash. Avoid those with sunken or moldy spots and, if possible, select squash with their stems still attached. Slight variations in skin color will not affect the quality or flavor of the flesh.
If you have never tasted spaghetti squash before, I suggest you give it a try. Here are some tips on how to prepare it. It is a real time saver to cook spaghetti squash in halves rather than leaving it whole.
Cut the raw squash lengthwise through the middle.
Scrape out the seeds and pulp.
Bake rind side up 30 to 40 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenhiet, or microwave six to eight minutes, or boil for about 20 minutes.
Once the squash is cool enough to handle, take a fork and scrape the flesh. As you do this, it will separate into pasta-like strands. Continue scrapping down to the shell, removing and transferring the strands to a bowl as you go.
You can serve spaghetti squash with your favorite pasta sauce, or with butter and herbs or butter and cinnamon.
You can also chill the squash strands and toss them with a vinaigrette dressing for something similar to a pasta salad.
Here are some squash equivalents you might find useful.
one-third to one-half pound raw, unpeeled squash equals one serving.
one pound peeled squash equals one cup cooked, mashed.
Two-and-a-half pounds whole squash equals two-and-three-fourths to three cups pureed.
One pound trimmed squash equals two cups cooked pieces.
One pound squash equals two to three servings.
12 ounces frozen squash equals one-and-a-half cups.
One medium-size (15 to 20 pounds) pumpkin equals five to seven quarts of cooked pumpkin.
For further information, you may contact Adrianne Vidrine at the LSU AgCenter at (337) 788-8821 or you can also visit our website at http://www.lsuagcenter.com.