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Winter Squash, the King of the Harvest

Winter SquashThose sweaters have come out, the heaters have started coming on in the mornings, the hot soups are back onto weekly menus, and all the heirloom hard squash and pumpkins are spilling out of every Whole Foods Market® outdoor display. Autumn is here and the holidays are right around the corner!

It can be a bit intimidating to incorporate these squash and pumpkins into your menus. There are so many varieties – and strange shapes – to choose from. But once you get over that fear, there’s no turning back. Some of my favorites are the big ol’ Blue Hubbard, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, kabocha, and of course, the iconic pumpkin.

Once you choose your squash, the next step is figuring out how to prep it. The type of squash and how you intend to cook it ultimately determines the best way to prep it. Many squashes, like the Blue Hubbard, the acorn and the pretty delicata, have a thin skin that that can be eaten when roasted. Whereas when I roast the tougher-skinned butternut, I always peel it first.

I have to admit, prepping butternut squash can be slightly tiresome at times. They don’t call it a hard squash for nothing, and their cylindrical shape can make cutting into them pretty tricky. Here are some tips that I find particularly helpful:

  • Learn to Cook: Roasted Butternut SquashMake sure that you choose a large, durable sharp knife. Trust me, you will be cursing up a storm if you use a flimsy, small or serrated knife.
  • Before I start peeling, I like to cut the base (which is the seed bed) from the longer neck part. Then I use either a knife or a vegetable peeler to peel away the skin.
  • With the base separated from the neck, it’s easier to cut the base in half. I then scoop out the seeds using a large spoon. You can either dry the seeds to season and enjoy as a crunchy snack later, or discard.
  • No matter how you intend to cook it, I suggest cutting all pieces around the same size to ensure consistent final texture, especially when roasting.

For a basic recipe, check out this one for Roasted Butternut Squash. If you wanted to cut the calories a bit and leave the oil out, simply dry roast on parchment paper, a Silpat mat or other non-stick baking sheet.

Spaghetti squash is a fun ingredient to get to know. This great light pasta alternative is simply roasted, flesh removed and topped with your favorite marinara. Here are some simple tips on preparing Spaghetti Squash.

Get creative with these autumn gems, and go beyond just roasting. Here are some of my favorite winter squash preparations.

  • Puréed or mashed with roasted garlic and sweet spices for an amazing spread on crostini, wraps and sandwiches. Try it with this recipe for Mashed Butternut Squash.
  • Simply steamed, and then blended with some savory veggies, herbs and spices for a heart-warming soup like in this recipe for Butternut Squash Soup.
  • Diced up, roasted and highlighted with wild rice like in this pilaf.

From stir fries, warm and cold roasted salads, stuffed and baked small squashes, risottos, pastas, marinated and grilled, spiral-sliced thin for a raw pasta, puréed with dried fruits for pies, sliced thin for lasagna noodles instead of pasta or even as a binder for veggie burgers, hard squashes can be a part of all your autumn and winter menus.

What are some of your favorite uses for winter squash?



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vanessa says …

I love cooking with winter squash! For the particularly hard-to handle ones, I try to pop them in the microwave and heat for 30 seconds to a minute to soften them. Combined with a sharp knife, this makes for easier cutting!

Deborah says …

I have heard that microwaving your food leaches all nutrients from them. Has anyone else?

Meme says …

Chad this is a suggestion for you. I love this article because you name the veggie and then tell healthy ways to cook it. I am always struggling to find the healthiest ways to cook my vegetables. If you are in need of a next topic I would suggest an extensive list of the healthiest way to cook veggies. Thanks for providing interesting blogs always! Definitely trying mashed butternut squash!!

Tim says …

Do you have pie or sugar pumpkins on hand?

nik says …

Love it chopped up and roasted or herb-sauteed as a pizza topping or glazed with maple or flavored syrup. And especially for kids, pureed with vegan milk and a little syrup or cinnamon, ginger and chai for a superdelicious smoothie...totally yumfuliscious!

DawnLM says …

I like to roast Butternut with Sweet potatoes!!! Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Cut up peeled seeded butternut squash into approximately 1 inch pieces. Then scrub, trim and cut up an equal amount of Sweet Potato or Yam to the same size (I don't peel the potatoes). Mix the two together, and drizzle with Olive oil to lightly coat. Then put in a good palm-full or so of Italian herb seasoning, a few cloves of fresh finely chopped Garlic (to your taste), a teaspoon of sea salt, and a teaspoon or so of fresh ground black pepper (again, to taste). Stir it all up so the Squash and Potato pieces get a nice coating of the herbs and spices. Then sprinkle in a bit of white flour and toss - just enough white flour to dust the pieces and "seal in" the herbs. Dump the whole lot out on a non-stick, lipped cookie sheet, and spread out so that it's all one layer as best as possible. Pop it into the pre-heated oven. After about 20-30 mins, give the lot a bit of a toss with a spatula, and then cook another 20-30 mins. Squash and Sweet potato should be golden, tender & savory roasted chunks of yummy deliciousness! Excellent for those folks who prefer 'savory' over the 'candied everything' that you normally get with the holidays.