Buying, Storing And Preparing Squash

pumpkinsNatively grown in the U.S. and incredibly versatile, squash is one of the staples of American cuisine. In fact, the word itself comes from the Native American term “askutasquash,” which means “a green thing eaten raw.” This tasty plant comes in a variety of useful forms, but it’s generally broken down into two categories: Winter and summer squash.

A surprising fact about squash
Chances are, no matter what time of year, you are going to run into this item during your cooking lessons. One thing to keep in mind is the fact that squash is actually a fruit by botanical definition. However, much like tomatoes – which are also technically fruits – squash is typically prepared and used like a vegetable.

The difference between summer and winter squash
These two varieties of squash are loose definitions, but generally refer to the time of year when the plant is harvested. Butternut squash, for example, is a squash that is harvested during the colder months of fall and winter. Zucchini, on the other hand, is plucked during the warmer months of spring and summer.

How to purchase and store squash
Winter squash are incredibly durable – in fact, you might need some extra elbow grease to get into the fruit of them! Their hard, thick rinds allow winter squash to be stored for up to three months in a cool, dark place.

However, summer squash are exactly the opposite, so you need to be more choosy when you’re shopping for them. Zucchini is one of the varieties that is known to bruise easily, so check for taut skin and a lack of blemishes while you are picking them out at the supermarket. Make sure to store summer squash in your refrigerator, and keep them away from apples, avocados and passion fruits, as these items release a ripening gas that can make your summer squash turn more quickly. For a safe bet, store them in a large plastic bag.

Common preparations
Both of these varieties are very versatile, so there are several cooking tips and tricks you can use during preparation. Winter squash can be boiled, steamed, made into a puree, microwaved and baked. Summer squash can be steamed, grilled or sauteed. It’s important to cook squash first, and then remove the seeds, as they often have a bitter taste in their raw state. However, you don’t have to discard them. Squash seeds themselves can be toasted and mixed with cinnamon and sugar for a sweet snack!

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