Is squash a fruit or a vegetable? The interesting fact is there are at least a dozen common varieties of winter squash, and technically, they all belong to the fruit family. However, they are usually used as vegetables on the menu! Winter squash are characterized by protective skins or shells that guard the delicious edible flesh and seeds inside. This outer shell makes them excellent storage “vegetables.” Their natural growing season runs from late summer to mid-winter. All varieties are very versatile and provide a tasty assortment of nutrients.

Three Must-Have Winter Squash
Learning about and choosing a winter squash can be an adventure. To keep it simple, here are three menu must-haves from Canadian Prairie Garden Purée.

Banana Squash
This banana-shaped squash has a thick, bright yellow skin and can reach up to 70 pounds! It has a very wet interior with a high water content. When it’s cooked, it has a fragrant, almost earthy flavour that goes well with other vegetables. It contains plenty of beta carotene and fibre. Despite its monumental size, the seed cavity holds relatively few and small seeds.

Butternut Squash
One of the most popular winter squash, this bell-shaped variety has thin, butterscotch-coloured skin and a deep orange-coloured flesh. It has a sweet flavour and buttery texture. Butternut squash is an excellent source of vitamin A, and a good source of fibre and vitamin C. It pairs well with a variety of flavours, including smoky bacon, cinnamon, and the sweet-savoury taste of balsamic vinegar. Its seeds are rich in healthy fats and zinc and can be eaten as a snack.

Pumpkin
This gourd-like squash can range from apple-sized up to 500 pounds! Pumpkin is a major part of Canadian culture, thanks to its association with the Halloween jack-o-lantern. There are many varieties of pumpkins for baking and cooking. Most of them have a mellow sweetness. Pumpkin is high in fibre, vitamin A, and antioxidant compounds called carotenoids, which give pumpkin its deep orange colour. Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are packed full of nutrition, including good fats, antioxidants, and vitamin E.

Winter Squash Purées on the Menu
Winter squash purees have wonderful versatility for a variety of menu applications. In addition to the traditional baby food, sauces and soup ingredients, I’ve been observing the trend of adding more winter squash to baked goods and desserts. This makes delicious sense, with their sweet flavours and creamy textures. Adding any of the winter squash purées to smoothies is the perfect way to punch up the nutrition and texture of this on-the-go favourite. Both the butternut and pumpkin purées are being used to create appetizing pastas. This innovation is showing up on restaurant menus in dishes like butternut squash ravioli and pumpkin gnocchi.

Final Thoughts
With their creamy, buttery texture, their sweet, sometimes earthy flavours, and their nutrition goodness, these three winter squash purées are menu must-haves.

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Jane Dummer, RD (www.janedummer.com), known as the "Pod to Plate" Food Consultant, collaborates with the food and nutrition industry across North America.