Squash, known as marrow in some parts of the world, is one of the few fruits that are more often eaten as a vegetable than as a fruit. Squash is the generic name given to the edible fruits of various gourd plants that belong to the genus Cucurbita. Squash are at times loosely classifies as winter squash and summer squash depending upon the season that the fruit is harvested. Winter squash are characterized by tough or warty skin, good keeping qualities, and less symmetrical shapes; whereas summer squash have a softer skin and are harvested before the seeds begin to harden. Zucchini and pumpkin are the more popular and most commonly eaten varieties of the fruit.
Though originally from the American continent, the versatility of the squash recipes has made the vegetable-fruit popular all around the world. The color, shape, size, flavor, and taste of these gourds vary greatly from species to species, which enhances their versatility and adaptability. . Recipes for squash compote, squash casserole, grilled squash salad, and spaghetti squash pasta are some of the popular squash recipes.
History of Squash and Culinary Significance of Squash recipes
Squash is considered as a New World vegetable. In fact, the word, squash comes from the Native Indian word askutasquash, which means eaten raw.
The Native Indians of Mexico and Central America were well-versed in squash cultivation techniques right from the pre-Columbus era. Squash recipes played an important role in the Native American cuisine and culture.
According to a legend, Squanto taught the first white settlers the technique of cultivating maize and squash, which later, saved them from starving in the New World. To commemorate this event, pumpkin or squash pie is traditionally prepared for every Thanksgiving Day.
From then on, the squash recipes have steadily gained popularity through the world with the exception of northern Europe, where the squash do not grow well due to insufficient sun and prolonged winters. Today, the largest commercial producers of this gourd include China, Japan, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, and Argentina.
Culinary Uses of Squash
As mentioned before, squash is one of the few fruits that are used as more as a vegetable than as a fruit. With a range of flavors and textures, is an extremely adaptable vegetable, which can be used in a variety of forms; and works well with several other vegetables and meats. As a result, squash can be used in numerous ways: raw, cooked, pureed, mashed, or shredded. Squash recipes for soup, salads, casseroles, pasta, stew, and dumplings are quite popular. Certain varieties of small squash like Pattypan Squash make great pickles. Since, squash is primarily a fruit; the flesh of fresh squash may also be used to prepare a variety of desserts including pies, cheese cakes, soufflés, etc. Due to the similarity in taste and texture of pumpkin and squash, all pumpkin recipes can be modified into squash recipes.
Flesh is not the only edible part of this gourd; the seeds of almost all squash are edible, flavorful, and highly nutritious. The squash seeds are usually dried or roasted and seasoned with salt and seasonings to make a delectable snack, or simply used as a garnish for soups & salads. Alternately, the seeds are ground and made into butter, squash seed oils, and squash seed meal.
Popular Squash Recipes from Around the World
Squash, though, a native to the American continent has gained popularity all around the world. All cuisines, including Asian, American, Italian, and African use one or the other varieties of squash in their traditional cooking. Some of the popular squash recipes from various cuisines have been mentioned below:
American: Buttered Squash, Glazed Squash, Maple Pecan Squash, Stuffed Spaghetti Squash.
Mediterranean: Squash Stuffed Dolma and Toasted Squash Seeds.
Italian: Spaghetti Squash Pasta Salad, Squash Gratin, Squash Pancakes, and Fettuccine with Squash Cream
European: Though, squash is not very common in the cold regions of Europe, with easier transport, several varieties of squash are gaining popularity here. Some frequently encountered European squash recipes include, Hot Squash Roastics, squash mousse, Cream-of-Winter-Squash Soup, Summer Squash Creole, and Baked Acorn Squash.
Mexican: Buttered Squash Guacamole, Chayote, Calabacitas, Aztec Soup, And Chipotle Crema Morel Stew.
Common Methods of Preparing Squash Recipes
Since, the skin of squash can be full of dirt and breed quite some bacteria, it is necessary to clean the fruit in running water before cutting. Once reasonably cleaned, cut out the ends and peel if the skin is very hard. In case of winter squash, the seeds are quite hard; hence, to prepare winter squash the seeds and core fibers must be removed before cooking.
Summer squash are usually tender enough to be eaten raw; alternately, they may be steamed, baked, deep dried, or sautéed, depending upon the squash recipe being used. Winter squash recipes usually involve cooking techniques like baking, steaming, or simmering.
Nutritive Value of Squash
Squash are a good source of dietary fibers and several squash recipes have a medium to low glycemic index, making them an ideal candidate for a glycemic diet. Moreover, summer squash are a rich source of Vitamin A, C, and B1, while winter squash are high in iron, riboflavin, and other vitamins. Squash seeds are rich in essential fatty acids and a good source of antioxidants.
Tips for Buying Squash
As the classification suggests, summer squash are best bough during the summer and winter squash during late fall and winter. While selecting summer squash, choose the ones that are heavy for their size and have shiny & unblemished rinds with no signs of rotting. Also, ensure that the rinds are tender and not hardened, for hard rinds indicate that the squash is over-mature and will have hard seeds and fibrous flesh.
Winter squash are highly susceptible to mold growth; hence, when purchasing winter squash, select the ones that are firm, heavy for their size and have dull & uniformly hard rinds. Soft spots indicate decay; hence, avoid such squashes.
Tips for Storing Squash
Winter squash have a longer shelf life than summer squash. Whole, uncut winter squash can be stored in a dry and well-ventilated room, away from direct sunlight for up to 6 months. Cut winter squash and fresh summer squash can stay in refrigerator for up to 3 days or can be frozen and stored for up to 6 months.
Non-food uses of Squash
Several hard skinned varieties of squash are dried whole and used for carving, pottery making, etc. Giant pumpkins, a type of squash, are also used to make musical instruments.
The largest squash, harvested in the year 2009 by a farmer in Canada, weighed more than 1200 pounds.