Winter squash in many colors provide high nutritional value

March 04, 1992|By Cathy Thomas | Cathy Thomas,Orange County Register

They come in a dizzying array of colors, from cool greens to warm yellows and oranges. There are rounded ones. Fluted ones. Smooth ones. Bumpy ones.

They're plentiful, versatile and economical, too.

Winter squash. Their hard skin and large seeds distinguish them from their soft-skinned cousins, the summer squash.

Unlike summer squash (such as zucchini), which are picked when the seeds and skin are still edible, winter squash are harvested when fully mature. In the maturation process, the seeds become woody and large. The skin toughens.

New varieties of winter squash from Europe and Asia accompany innovations from Latin America increase choices at local supermarkets.

Squash is high in beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body and are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, niacin, phosphorus and potassium.

* Buying tips. The hard shell should be intact, without any signs of decay or soft spots. Avoid squash with cracks or watery areas. Choose produce that seem heavy for their size; a heavier squash contains more edible flesh. Banana squash and sometimes Hubbard squash are sold in cut pieces. In this case, look for brightly colored and fresh-looking flesh; avoid discolored pieces.

* Storage hints: Whole squash can be stored in a cool, dry place for three to six months. Ideal storage temperature is around 50 degrees; refrigeration will change flavor and texture. High temperatures also will cause deterioration. Cut squash pieces should be refrigerated.

* Preparation: Cooked winter squash, cut in pieces or pureed, freezes well.

* Cutting the skin. Frieda's Finest Product Specialties of Los Angeles offers the following tip for cutting up a tough-skinned squash: To split a large squash, first split off the stem. With a large chef's knife, score the squash where you want to cut it. Insert knife a quarter of an inch into squash. Using a meat mallet or the light touch of a hammer, strike the knife near the handle end so the blade goes into the squash. Give a few more taps until squash splits on its own. Use a large spoon to scoop out seeds.

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