Archive for Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Tips on selecting, preparing gourds

October 20, 2004


How do you know if a squash is a summer or winter variety?

Whether they are green, white or yellow; long, round or scalloped, summer squashes are all thin-skinned and easily punctured with a fingernail. Except for butternut, winter squashes all have hard-shelled skins.

When purchasing summer squashes, look for those that are firm and heavy. Avoid them if the rind is tough or the stem is dry or black.

Winter squashes should be fully mature indicated by a hard, tough rind. Select squash that is heavy for its size. Slight variation in skin color does not influence the flavor. Avoid squash with cuts, punctures, sunken or moldy spots on the rind as these indicate decay.

A tender rind is a sign of immaturity and means poor eating quality in winter squash.

How do you peel and cook winter squash?

Peeling and cooking winter squash and pumpkin can be a challenge to the novice. Butternut and acorn squash can be peeled with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Others, such as Turban and Hubbard, must be cut open with a sharp cleaver or by tapping the handle end of a large chef's knife with a blunt object.

To open the tough ones, place the squash on newspaper and insert the tip of a chef's knife. Tap the handle end of the knife with a mallet or rolling pin, then cut or break it in half. Scoop out the strings and seeds and discard, unless you plan to roast the seeds. The squash then can be cut into smaller pieces and peeled with a paring knife.

For squash puree, simply bake the two halves at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or longer or microwave on high for 25 minutes or longer until fork tender then spoon out the soft flesh. Most varieties of winter squash can be used interchangeably in recipes or substituted for pumpkin and vice versa. Cooked squash and pumpkin also can be frozen. Cool the chunks in the refrigerator, then pack into freezer bags and freeze for up to 6 months. Measure puree in one cup portions before freezing for ease in recipe use.

To enhance the flavor of pumpkin and winter squash, add cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, honey, orange juice concentrate or use them in your favorite recipe. Add chunks to soups and stews to increase fiber and nutrients.

Winter squash are a tasty source of complex carbohydrates and fiber. It also provides potassium, niacin and iron. The orange flesh is very high in beta carotene; the deeper the color, the higher the beta carotene content. Beta carotene is the substance your body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for healthy skin and eyes.

Here are some winter squash recipes:

Pumpkin Vegetable Skillet


4 cups pumpkin, diced into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 cup onion slices

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup green pepper, chopped

2 cups whole tomatoes or 1-pound can of tomatoes

2 cups cut green beans

1 cup whole-kernel corn

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Place ingredients in large skillet and cook over low heat, covered, 30 to 35 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

Squash Bread


2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 cup butter or margarine

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup honey

1 egg plus 1 egg white

1 1/4 cups pureed cooked winter squash

On a plate, sift together first six ingredients. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix butter, sugar and honey together until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and egg white. Add squash puree and beat until smooth. Fold in dry ingredients. Turn into a greased 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan. Bake until golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about one hour. Remove from the oven, let stand in pan 10 minutes. Turn out onto a wire cooling rack or cake plate to cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Spaghetti Squash with Parmesan Cheese


One 4-to-5-pound spaghetti squash

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cloves minced garlic

3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon white pepper (optional)

1 tablespoon minced fresh basil or parsley

Additional Parmesan cheese for passing

Pierce squash in several places with a long-tined fork or metal skewer. Place on baking pan and bake 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Using potholders, squeeze squash to test for doneness. It is ready when it gives slightly under pressure. Remove and cool.

Heat a saucepan over heat, pour in olive oil. Add garlic and cook until tender but not browned for about 5 minutes.

When squash is cool enough to handle, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and stringy portions. Using a fork, pull pulp from the shell in long strands and add them to the warm garlic oil. Toss squash strands gently with pepper, salt and cheese. Pour into a serving bowl and garnish with basil or parsley. Serve immediately. Pass additional cheese at the table. Serves 6.

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