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With zucchini almost gone, it's time to look for some winter squash

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By Norm Harding, Reporter

Once our weather begins to cool off, it’s time to look for some winter squash. If you’ve been frequenting our local farmer’s markets and farm markets, it’s hard to miss them in the produce section this time of year. Spaghetti and butternut squash are bright yellow or orange; some are small and some are really big, like the Hubbard squash, which comes in blue and orange!

The main characteristic of winter squash is their hard skin and inedible seeds that need to be scooped out. A pumpkin would be considered a typical winter squash. Because of its tough skin, only the inside flesh of winter squash can be eaten, but because of that tough shin, its storage life is increased. Winter squash can be stored for 3 months or longer.

Selecting a good squash

Since winter squash comes in so many sizes, just choose a size based on your cooking needs. Choose a squash with a smooth, dry rind free of cracks or soft spots. Look for rind that has a dull appearance, as a shiny rind may indicate that it was picked too early or maybe even has been given a wax coating! Make sure the squash has a firm rounded stem; squash without a stem could allow bacteria to enter.

Varieties of squash

There are many varieties of squash to choose from. The most common in this area are acorn, buttercup, butternut, banana, spaghetti, sweet dumpling and the Hubbard, which ranges in weight from 5 to 50 pounds.

Acorn

One of the most widely available among the small winter squash, it weighs about 1-2 pounds and is about 6 inches in diameter. This squash is typically baked and is a good source of calcium.

Banana

This long cylindrical-shaped squash can weigh as much as 30 pounds. Because of its size, it’s usually sold in chunks instead of whole. Sweet and dry, they are excellent when combined with baked potatoes. Steaming will produce a slightly sweeter flavor.

Buttercup

Much sweeter than most other varieties, buttercup squash can be baked, mashed, pureed, steamed, simmered and even stuffed. It makes a great substitute for sweet potatoes, too.

Spaghetti

This oval-shaped yellow squash is typically 10 inches in length and weighs about 2-3 pounds. It gets its name from the tender, spaghetti-like strands when cooked. It has a slightly sweet taste. If you want more flavor, choose the larger squash with thicker strands.

Spaghetti Squash With Tomatoes, Basil and Parmesan

3 lb. spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise, seeds removed

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1/4 cup shredded fresh basil leaves

1/4 tsp. dried oregano

3 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan

1 cup thinly sliced cherry tomatoes

In a glass baking dish, arrange the squash half, cut side down, and pour 1/4 cup of water around it; cover dish tightly with microwave-safe plastic wrap. Microwave the squash at high powder (100 percent) for 12 minutes, or until it is soft when pressed; let stand, covered, for 3 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, shredded basil, oregano and 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan. Stir in the tomatoes and season the mixture with salt and pepper.

While the squash is still warm, scrape it with a fork to form strands, add the strands to the tomato mixture and toss the mixture until it is combined. Divide the mixture between two bowls, sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of Parmesan over it, and garnish with additional basil. Makes 2 servings.

Baked Stuffed Squash With Beef and Black Beans

2 medium acorn squash

1/2 lb. ground beef

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped green or red bell pepper

1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce

1 cup corn kernels (canned or frozen, thawed)

Salt and pepper to taste

1-1/2 tsps. chili powder

1 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

2 Tbsps. fresh chopped cilantro

Shredded cheddar cheese for topping

Spray a 13x10-inch baking pan with nonstick olive oil spray. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Place the squash, cut side down, in the pan and add about 1/2-inch of water and then cover with foil. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until tender.

In a skillet, cook the beef and onion until beef is no longer pink; add bell pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes longer. Stir in all remaining ingredients except cheese and set aside or refrigerate until time to stuff the squash.

Stuff squash and place back in the baking pan. Bake about 20-25 minutes, until hot. Add cheese and continue baking a few minutes longer, or until cheese is melted. Serve with Spanish rice or your favorite mac ‘n cheese. Makes 4 servings.

Butternut Squash and Apple Casserole

1 small butternut squash (about 2 lbs.)

2 tart apples

1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

4 Tbsps. butter, cold

1 Tbsp. flour

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Butter a 2-1/2-quart baking dish and heat oven to 350 degrees. Peel, seed and cut squash into small slices. Core the apples, peel and cut into thin slices; toss both together and pour into a prepared baking dish.

Combine brown sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; cut in butter with a fork or pastry cutter until crumbly. Sprinkle crumbs evenly over sliced squash and apples. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until squash is tender.

Spaghetti Squash with Sage and Romano Cheese

1 spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise and seeded

1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

2 Tbsps. chopped fresh sage

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

2 tsps. butter, melted

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the squash, cut side down, in a large baking dish and bake in the preheated oven for 50 minutes.

Scrape flesh of squash from the rind using a fork and place in a bowl. Add the cheese, sage, pine nuts, butter, salt and pepper. Toss to combine and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at nharding@brunswickbeacon.com.