ACORN SQUASH

January 8, 2015

ACORN SQUASH

Although considered a winter squash – acorn squash belongs to the same species as all summer squashes [zucchini, …]. As the name suggests, its shape resembles that of an acorn. The most common variety is dark green in color, often with a single splotch of orange on the side or top. Some newer varieties might be yellow, white or multi-colored. The squash has distinctive longitudinal ridges and sweet, yellow-orange flesh. Sometimes known by the name pepper squash or Des Moines squash they typically weigh 500 g to 1 kg and are 10 to 18 centimeters long.  The flesh is sweeter than summer squash, with a nut-like flavor.
Indigenous to North and Central America, the squash was introduced to early European settlers by Native Americans.

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SEASON

Although available in many areas year-round, prime season for fresh acorn squash in North America is early fall through winter.

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SHOPPING + STORAGE

A perfectly ripe squash [one that’s heavy for its size, firm and free of soft spots or mold] usually keeps for one to two months in a cool, dry spot away from direct sunlight. You should steer clear of squash that have soft or glossy rinds – a soft rind generally indicates watery, flavorless flesh – glossy rinds are a sign of immature, bitter flesh. Acorn squash is at its peak when it has a dull, deep green rind splashed with a bit of bright orange. These orange patches typically become larger as the vegetable ages, which is why you should avoid buying a squash that’s mostly orange if you don’t plan to use it right away.

Acorn squash tends to last longer if it’s stored at about 10°C [50°F]. Temperatures below 10°C [like in your fridge] actually make the uncooked vegetable deteriorate faster. It keeps best in a cool dry location such as your cellar.

Cooked acorn squash can be refrigerated for up to three days in an air-tight container. Cooked, cooled and mashed it can be frozen in an air-tight container for up to a year. Give it a day to thaw in the refrigerator before using.

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CULINARY USE

Acorn squash is most commonly baked, but can also be microwaved, sautéed or steamed. It may be stuffed with rice, meat or vegetable mixtures.• Avoid boiling acorn squash. Boiling damages both the flavor and the texture.

Acorn squash is a versatile food that can be prepared with savory spices, spicy seasonings or sweet ingredients, depending on your tastes and the rest of your menu, but the best way to cook an acorn squash is to slow roast it with sweet spices.

Cube acorn squash and add it to soups or stews or bake the squash and stuff it with a mix of grains, fruits and vegetables. You can also puree acorn squash and use it the same way you would use pumpkin or other winter squashes because it has a similar flavor. Use pureed squash to make pies, cakes or quick breads. Acorn squash pairs well with apples, brown sugar, cranberries, pecans and walnuts for sweet dishes, as well as meats, potato, grains, rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano for more savory dishes.

The ribbed shape of the acorn squash makes peeling it virtually impossible, but wonderful for stuffing with a wide variety of fillings. It is most often served cooked in its shell. If you need the pulp only, you will need to cook it first and then scoop the pulp from the skin.
Instead of peeling the squash, pierce the rind all over with a sharp knife and cook the vegetable whole – an average-sized specimen needs about 45 minutes at 200°C or around 12 minutes in a microwave. Once it’s cool enough to handle, slice the squash in half, remove its seeds and scoop out the tender flesh.

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The seeds of the squash are also eaten – usually after being toasted. The seeds must be separated from the fruit’s slimy guts before you can eat them. Rinse them clean in a colander, using your fingers to remove any clinging fibers. Spread the seeds out on a towel and allow them to dry thoroughly. Toss them with olive oil, spread them on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast them at 120°C for 10 minutes, or until they begin to brown.

RECIPES

sweet acorn squash

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NUTRITIONAL VALUE

The nutritional content of acorn squash is similar to that of all other varieties of squash. It applies specifically to baked winter acorn squash that doesn’t contain any additional salt. This squash is not as rich in beta-carotene as other winter squashes, but is a good source of dietary fiber and potassium, as well as smaller amounts of Vitamins C and B, magnesium and manganese.

Acorn squash may help lower your risk for health conditions including heart disease, cancer and macular degeneration due to the high levels of carotenoids they contain. Carotenoids are what give these squash their orange color. Squash is one of the easiest vegetables to digest, is low in calories, and makes a filling dish.

Acorn squash seeds are nutritionally comparable to pumpkin seeds. They’re packed with protein, heart-healthy unsaturated fatty acids and dietary fiber. The interior kernels are an excellent source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin E and zinc.

Nutritional value  per 100g  [% of Daily Value]

  • Energy                       115 kcal
  • Carbohydrates          29.9 g [10%]
  • Sugar                          2.2 g
  • Dietary fiber              9 g [36%]
  • Fat                               0.3    g
  • Protein                       2.3    g
  • Vitamin A                  [18%]
  • Vitamin B6                [20%]
  • Vitamin C                   [37%]
  • Potassium                  [26%]
  • Manganese                [25%]
  • Magnesium               [22%]

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