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Santa Cruz residents are spoiled for choice when it comes to finding fresh, local produce year-round due to the region’s Mediterranean climate and array of farmers markets available to consumers. One of the largest and most established markets in the county, is the Aptos Farmers Market at Cabrillo College. Held every Saturday, in rain or shine, the Aptos market features more than 90 vendors and was voted Best Farmers Market in last year’s Good Times’ Best of readers’ poll.

For those who want to get outdoors, hear live music, meet local farmers and go home with beautiful produce that can be crafted into simple yet elegant dishes that will wow family and friends, the Aptos Farmers Market is the perfect place to visit for weekend shopping.

Currently, the market is flush with winter squashes. They are in season, deliciously versatile and can be found in a variety of shapes and sizes, mounded in piles and overflowing in select farm stands.

The myriad of orange-fleshed varieties, such as Acorn and Butternut, are not only in great abundance right now but are also incredibly nutritious. Low in fat, and high in dietary fiber, the American Dietetic Association lists them as one of the best sources of the antioxidant beta carotene. A one-cup serving contains half the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, as well as vitamin A, niacin, folate, thiamine and vitamin B-6.

Butternut squash’s bright orange flesh is fine and sweet with a slightly nutty flavor. To prepare, roast whole, then scoop out the cooked flesh and purée for soups. It also pairs well with many flavors such as citrus, balsamic vinegar, cheeses, herbs, bold spices and cured meats.

Although Butternut squash is perhaps the most well known, there are many other varieties to choose from as well.

The tender Delicata is a slender, small to medium squash with green and yellow stripes. The flesh is yellow and creamy with a more subtle flavor than butternut. Because the skin is soft and edible, this delectable squash makes a great vehicle for stuffing.

Hubbard squash is large and tapered, with a dark green, blue-green or grey-blue shell. The fine-grained flesh of this squash is yellow-orange, somewhat mealy in texture and full of flavor. Earthy herbs and spices like rosemary, coriander, fennel, cumin, nutmeg and curry compliment this squash.

The wonderfully unique Spaghetti squash is large and pale yellow with an oblong shape. After cooking, the light yellow flesh can be scraped into thin strands resembling pasta with a fork. The flavor of this squash is extremely mild, so the key to taste with this variety is what you add to it – butter is a dependable enhancement.

True to its name, the Acorn squash is shaped like a rather large acorn with smooth, dark green skin and yellow or orange patches. It is mild and slightly sweet, and great roasted with butter and a bit of brown sugar or honey.

There are also many more varieties – why not try something new? Ask the farmer; they will gladly fill you in on a delicious and simple way to prepare the produce they sell.