In Louisiana, we seem to have only two seasons–summer and winter. Summer’s heat gives way to winter cold sometime between November and January; it varies from year to year. For the rest of the world, where four seasons are enjoyed, fall is a time for harvesting winter squash. Fortunately for us, that squash is also readily available to us in our local grocery stores and also at farmer’s markets, no matter what the temperature is in Louisiana. Winter squash is harvested in the fall, but is called “winter” squash because its thick skin provides a layer of protection so that it keeps well–for weeks or even months when the weather cools down. Keep in mind that the thick skin isn’t usually edible, and the seeds need to be removed before eating. Summer squash, in contrast, has a much thinner skin and can be eaten whole–skin, seeds, and all!
A few common types of winter squash easily found at Louisiana markets are Butternut, Pumpkin, Acorn and Spaghetti. Butternut squash, Acorn squash, and Pumpkin all have a rich orange flesh color, and they are loaded with vitamin A. A single cup of these types provides more vitamin A than most people need in a day–457% of the daily value, to be exact. Spaghetti squash doesn’t taste like spaghetti. It gets its name from that fact that, when it’s cooked, its flesh separates into a noodle-like strands. It is also much less sweet than the other winter squash.
When selecting a winter squash, keep in mind that it will generally feel heavy for its size and should have firm skin without dullness, blemishes, or soft spots. Do not refrigerate winter squash. Store in a cool, dark place for maximum freshness.
An easy way to enjoy winter squash is to cook it in your slow cooker. At this time of year, our schedules can be very hectic and the allure of throwing something together quickly and letting it cook all day is something busy people find enticing. So, break out your slow cooker (most people call it a “crock pot”) and cook some winter squash using this month’s versatile recipe for Butternut Squash Soup.
2 Cups Vegetable Stock
4 Cloves Garlic, Peeled and Chopped
1 Medium Onion, Peeled and Diced
1 Carrot, Peeled and Diced
1 Granny Smith Apple, Diced
1 Medium Butternut Squash, Peeled and Cubed (Remove Seeds)
1 Sprig Fresh Sage (or 1/2 Teaspoon Dried)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Black Pepper
1/8 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/8 Teaspoon White Pepper
Pinch of Cinnamon & Nutmeg
1/2 Cup Coconut Milk (May Substitute Regular Milk)
Greek Yogurt, Low-Fat or Nonfat (Optional For Topping/Garnish)
Brown onions and garlic in a small skillet for 5 to 7 minutes, until caramelized. Combine vegetable stock, garlic and onion mixture, carrot, apple, butternut squash, and all seasonings to 6 quart slow cooker. Stir to combine. Cook for 6 to 8 hours on low, or 3 to 4 hours on high–until squash is tender and mashes easily with a fork. Remove sage sprig and discard. Stir in coconut milk. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth (you can also transfer in batches to a blender to puree). Adjust seasoning, as needed. Serve warm, with a swirl of Greek yogurt on top, if desired.
For more information on this or any other nutrition topic, please call the Rapides Extension Office of the LSU AgCenter at (318) 767-3968 or visit our website www.lsuagcenter.com/rapides.