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Pumpkin Power

Pumpkin is the main attraction in two Ashland Food Co-op cooking classes
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Most winter squash recipes call for baking the squash before adding it to the dish. Here, butternut squash lasagna with kale is featured. (Autumn Cruz/Sacramento Bee/MCT)MCT
 Posted: 2:00 AM November 15, 2013

Pumpkin is on parade this month at Ashland Food Co-op, which promises free pumpkins for participants in two cooking classes.

The iconic winter squash stars in savory foods — dip, chili, salad and curry — for a Nov. 19 class before filling four types of pie — gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and low-glycemic — prepared Nov. 21. The reward for taking both classes is picking a free pumpkin from the Ashland store, says culinary educator Mary Shaw.

"If you're prepping it for pie ... why not make some savory options?" says Shaw. "Actually, there's a lot of things you can do with pumpkin that aren't sweet."

Squash Primer

• Pumpkin — This familiar winter squash needs no introduction. Halloween and Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same without it. Although pumpkin's primary attribute should be that it's low calories, has no fat and is rich in vitamins. One cup of cooked pumpkin has only 50 calories, but 2,650 units of vitamin A — almost a full day's recommended intake for an adult.

• Butternut — Looking like a fat, beige bowling pin, this winter favorite is the chef's darling. The size is right. It's easy to peel, and the neck has no seeds. New varieties with high sugar content taste like candied yams.

• Acorn — Also known as Danish, this ranks among the top winter squash in stores. It's relatively small and easy to cook. Acorns can be found in gold as well as traditional dark-green.

• Hubbard — Big, ugly and often warty, these heavyweights often are the size of bowling balls — and weigh about as much. Skin color ranges from dark green to blue-gray to orange. The fine-grained orange flesh makes excellent custard, soup, cakes, etc., as a substitute for pumpkin.

• Carnival — Looks and tastes like acorn, but in a party mood. The skin is striped or speckled in gold, orange and/or green.

• Delicata — It's shaped like a zucchini, but the skin is striped in green, yellow and white. The sweet flesh has almost a cornlike taste due to its starch.

• Spaghetti — The oddball winter squash, this large, lemon-yellow gourd with a smooth skin is packed with fibrous pulp that — after baking, boiling or steaming — resembles spaghetti (and can taste like it, too). It can be roasted whole, then split. The insides are then shredded with a fork.

• Banana — This familiar squash (a favorite for baby food) usually is sold in chunks. Whole, they weigh 10 to 20 pounds or more. The smooth skin is light-pink or orange.

• Lakota — Gaining fans nationwide, this heirloom squash was prized by the Lakota Sioux people. Slightly pointed in shape, this squash averages about 7 pounds. Its green-and-orange coloring makes it an attractive decoration, but it's also good roasted.

• Kabocha — A favorite in Japan, this squash has a jade to dark-green rind with pale streaks. The flesh is smooth and creamy with an almost honeylike flavor.

• Kuri — It's the size and color of a large pumpkin, but with a pointy end. The flavor is pumpkinlike, too, but the texture is smoother.

• Sweet Dumpling — These look like mini-acorn or Carnival squashes with vertical ridges, but the mostly white background is flecked with green. The inside is pale yellow but tastes like a sweet potato.

• Turban — These large green-and-orange squashes look like their name and are used mostly for decoration. The hide is tough to split, but the pale-yellow flesh has a nutty flavor.

• Buttercup — Looks like a squashed green turban, but smaller — usually about 2 pounds. The flavor is sweet and — as you would expect — buttery.

— McClatchy News Service

In the pantheon of winter squash, pumpkin has many peers with similar nutrition profiles. Winter squash's predominately orange flesh is high in beta-carotene, fiber and other nutrients. In general, the darker the squash, the more vitamins. A half-cup of mashed acorn or butternut squash contains 60 calories, but three times the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A.

A number of squash can be used interchangably in recipes. Roasting is the easiest way to cook winter squash.

Cut the squash in half or large chunks or slices. (Peeling is optional.) Remove seeds. Place squash in a baking dish. Brush with olive oil or melted butter, if desired. Then roast in a preheated, 350-degree oven until soft (for about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces).

Squash, particularly small ones, also are suited to microwaving. Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds, place halves cut-sides down on a microwave-safe plate and cover with waxed paper or plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 6 to 8 minutes (depending on squash's size). Turn the squash over and test for doneness with a fork. If desired, add a little butter and brown sugar to the center, cover and microwave on high for 2 more minutes.

Once cooked, squash will keep for a few days in the refrigerator or for up to a year in the freezer. Whole, uncooked squash will last for weeks if stored in a cool, dark place. When purchasing squash, choose ones that are firm and heavy without any decay or soft spots.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email McClatchy News Service contributed to this story.

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