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Winter Squash, the King of the Harvest

Those 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:

  • Make 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?