BY DEBRA J. MORRIS
Winter squash is nearing its peak season and can be a tasty addition to your fall dinners. The state of California is the second largest producer of winter squash. Many heirloom varieties are coming back, varieties you won’t find anywhere else.
Hard-shelled, or “winter” squash, is part of the gourd family and grown to maturity with thicker, harder skins than the soft-shelled summer squash. The flesh is a yellow or orange color that is darker than the soft-shelled varieties with more nutrients and a higher amount of complex carbohydrates. They also vary in color, size, shape, and flavor.
They can range in size from a small acorn squash, which can weigh not much more than a half pound, to the banana squash that can weigh as much as 70 pounds. They store well and can be kept on the counter for a month or more. Look for hard shells and squash that is heavy for its size. They’re sweet, full of antioxidants, and perfect for autumn cooking. Here are a few favorites available at the farmers’ market:
Acorn– Shaped like a large acorn. It has sweet, fibrous flesh and has ribs that run the length of its blackish-green or golden-yellow skin.
Butternut – Beige colored and shaped like a vase. It has a bulbous end and pale, creamy skin, with a choice, fine-textured, deep-orange flesh with a sweet, nutty flavor.
Spaghetti – It has a golden-yellow, oval rind and a mild, nutlike flavor. When cooked, the flesh separates in strands that resemble spaghetti pasta. The more yellow the spaghetti squash, the riper and best to eat.
Kabocha – Also known as a Ebisu or Japanese pumpkin, Kabocha refers most commonly to a squash of the buttercup type. It has a rich sweet flavor, and often dry and flaky when cooked.
Delicata– Also called Sweet Potato squash, Peanut squash, and Bohemian squash. It has a creamy pulp that tastes a bit like sweet potatoes.
You’ll find fresh winter squash at your farmers’ market from Halog Farms out of Merced who have a wide variety from butternut to kabocha; Jacob’s Farm from Los Banos with butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash; and Tu Universo in Watsonville offers some lovely big butternut squash.
Roasted Winter Squash
1 large acorn or kabocha squash, cut in half, seeds removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon melted butter
Sprinkle of brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the pumpkins or squash in quarters and scoop out all the seeds and string. Cover a baking sheet with foil. Brush a little melted butter on the cut edges of the pumpkin/squash. Place on the baking sheet. Cook for about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the squash, until it is soft to the touch. Serve hot.