Beat the winter blahs with winter squash recipes

Oct 24, 2008 at 12:23 p.m. ET

Dropping fall leaves and fall temperatures certainly curtail the appeal of delicate summer salads and barely there grilled entrees. If you haven't already figured it out, fall (and winter) weather adds up to heartier fare like steaming stews and sturdy veggies. Among fall's veggie delights is yet another healthy and delicious gift from Mother Nature: winter squash. Read on for three wow-worthy winter squash recipes to serve on those gray days when the cold weather blahs won't seem to go away.

Winter Squash

The variety of winter squash is abundant and beautiful

When you browse your market's produce section, you may be astonished at the varieties of winter squash heaped in bins: pumpkin, acorn, butternut, hubbard, turban, buttercup, plus others.

It is easy to marvel at their diversity in size, shape and color. Sturdy cousins of the yellow and green summer squash, the winter varieties are nutrient powerhouses packed with beta-carotene and fiber, but containing few calories and no fat, despite their rich flavor. For health reasons alone, winter squash should star in your cold-weather meals. And to simplify shopping and cooking, many varieties are interchangeable in the cook pot.

Select the best winter squash

Picking out the best squash is fairly simple, as most winter squash feel as durable as a brick. Select squash that both look and feel firm to the touch and are weighty when picked up.

Ignore any slight discolorations on the bottom where it rested on the ground before picking. For long-term storage of several weeks, refrigerate the squash — with the stem on — in the vegetable drawer.

Winter squash is wonderfully versatile

Despite its proud pedigree — winter squash was a staple of the Native American diet during the nation's early days — some modern American cooks may shy away from this humble vegetable.

Whether you think it is bland, boring or frumpy, the modest squash is a true culinary hero. Baked, roasted, stir-fried, steamed or stewed, its pale- to dark-orange flesh and its delicate sweetness flatter whatever comes with it. And when cooked, its flesh purees nicely to fill pasta or to form the basis for soups, pies, puddings, pancakes and breads.

Readying winter squash for recipes is not as daunting as you may think

There's no denying, of course, that winter squash are a bit of trouble to ready for the cook pot. For one, their tough outer skin requires peeling — unless you roast the squash whole and scoop out the seeds when the squash has cooked to softness.

Cooks experienced with the potato peeler will find peeling makes fast work to get to the hearty flesh. But speedier still are the squash varieties, which are most often acorn and butternut, which are peeled, seeded and deftly cut into chunks and sold at some markets.

Regardless of how you want to cook and eat your winter squash, take advantage of the season, and stock up on this cold-weather treat. Here are three warm and wonderful recipes to get you started.

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