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Fall In Love with Winter Squash

Winter squash are prominently displayed at grocery stores in the fall and winter months. Many shoppers pass them by because they don’t know how to prepare them. I use to look at the hard exteriors of the squash and passed them by because I had no idea what to do with them. Winter squash are actually easy to prepare and are a healthy addition to any meal. They’re also a good source of vitamins A and C, potassium and fiber. One-half cup of cooked winter squash has only 40 calories.

Winter squash is picked when it is fully mature and has a thick, inedible skin. This thick skin provides a protective covering for the squash and allows for a long storage life. Winter squash can be stored for three months or longer in a cool, dry place preferably in a single layer. Three of the most common winter squash are butternut, spaghetti and acorn squash.

Butternut squash is tan in color and has a long, bell-like shape. Spaghetti squash is oblong or oval in shape and yellow in color. Acorn squash has its name because it is actually shaped like an acorn. It is dark green in color and has a ridged rind or skin.

When shopping, look for squash that are heavy for their size, free of soft spots and have a dull sheen (a shiny skin is an indicator the squash is not fully mature).

Cut the squash in two, scoop out the seeds and brush the cut surface with oil. Place the cut side down in a baking dish with 1/4 cup of water. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees F until the flesh is soft. The hard shell of the squash can be difficult to cut in two so be sure to have a heavy-duty sharp knife.

All types of winter squash can be baked in the same way, but not prepared the same.

All winter squash bake well.

Once the butternut or acorn squash is cooked and cooled, it can be peeled away from the skin, cut into cubes, and used in soups, stews and casseroles along with other vegetables. Butternut or acorn squash can be used interchangeably in recipes.

Spaghetti squash isn’t used in recipes in the same way as other winter squash. It was given that name because of its spaghetti-like interior. Once it is cooked, use a fork to peel the flesh away from the skin to form long strands like spaghetti. You can serve it with any type of pasta sauce, in the same way you would serve spaghetti noodles.

My recipe for Butternut Squash and Brown Rice Pilaf uses squash in a flavorful way that showcases the sweetness and pairs beautifully with the nutty brown rice. It’s the perfect fall side dish!

Butternut Squash and Brown Rice Pilaf

Serves: 8

This is a great side dish for a simple fall meal, or as a new Thanksgiving tradition! This dish is delicious hot or at room temperature.

2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, halved and seeded

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons butter

1 large red onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 large stalks celery, diced

1 large bell pepper, seeded, ribs removed and diced

1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon nutmeg

1 cups instant or parboiled brown rice

1 (14-ounce) can vegetable or low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup water

2 green onions, root end removed, white part and green stalk, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or 1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or ½ tablespoon dried sage

Grate the squash through the large holes of a box grater or in the food processor. Heat oil and butter in a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft and lightly colored, 5 minutes. Add the celery, bell pepper, tomato paste, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cook, stirring for 3 to 5 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat. Add the squash, in batches if necessary, and stir until it has reduced in volume enough so that you can cover the pan.

Increase the heat to medium-high, pour in water and broth, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, covered, stirring once or twice, until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and the squash is tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Add green onions, oregano and sage; gently stir to combine. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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