Top 5 Foods With Surprising Qualities: Winter Squash Part II

Selecting Squash

Choose squash that have smooth, hard rinds and a deep, dull color. The larger the squash, the sweeter it is. Shiny rinds indicate a premature harvest. Avoid squash with tender spots and cracks.

Look for squash that are heavy for their size. If possible, select squash with a round, dry stem. Collapsed, blackened and damp stems are indicators of poor quality.

If purchasing squash sold in halves or quarters, check for good interior color and fine-grained flesh.

Storage and Handling

Because of their hard shell, winter squashes store well. Keep them in a dark, well-ventilated area for up to 1 month. They do best in areas where the temperature is cool but not below 50 degrees.

Wrap cut pieces in plastic wrap and place them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Preparation Pointers

Cutting the hard, dense rind of a winter squash can be a difficult task. Take the proper precautions when cutting. Use a sharp knife, cut along the squash's seam and make sure the squash is steady before slicing. You may want to give the blunt part of the knife a few hits with a small, heavy object such as a mallet to get the cut started. After you have washed and cut the squash, remove all the seeds.

If the squash is too difficult to cut, bake it whole until it starts to soften, then cut it in half. Spaghetti squash needs to be punctured before baking to prevent exploding. Also, try not to overbake your squash. Just because the name is squash doesn't mean it has to be squashed before you eat it. If you try to undercook your squash for a bit you'll find that there is much more flavor and texture there other than just veggy mush.

Squash Varieties

Butternut
Looking somewhat like a gourd, butternut squash has soft, sweet, bright orange flesh. Its dry consistency makes it an excellent replacement in recipes that call for sweet potato.
Selection: The butternut is smooth-skinned and has an even cream color. Avoid butternut squash that has tinges of green. Although butternut squash is available year-round, it's best from late summer to early fall.

Delicata
Also called Bohemian squash, the flesh of the delicata is mild, moist, creamy yellow and fairly sweet. Like other winter squashes, delicata is versatile. It's great mashed, in soup and stews and boiled.
Selection: A fairly large winter squash that usually weighs 1 to 2 pounds, the delicata is long and green with broad cream-colored stripes. Although it's available year-round, Delicata squash is at its best from late summer through early fall.

Spaghetti
One of the most curious squash around, when baked the interior of this squash turns into edible fibrous strands that can be eaten like spaghetti. It has a mild nutty taste with a crisp texture.
Selection: Spaghetti squash is smooth, yellow and watermelon-shaped.

Sweet Dumplings
This type of winter squash resembles the delicata, but it's smaller and a bit more squat. Its flesh is yellow-orange and very sweet. Because of their size, sweet dumplings are probably best suited for baking. Sweet dumplings may be cooked whole or split lengthwise. Be sure to remove the seeds before serving.

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