All summer, we enjoy our share of zucchini and summer squashes. Come autumn, we happily embrace their harder-shelled, densely-fleshed, sweet-tasting brethren. Like summer squash, mild-tasting winter squash welcomes bold flavor additions. Unlike summer squash, most winter squash varieties keep well for weeks, sometimes months, so fans can stock up at local farmers markets and produce stands.
There are dozens and dozens of squash varieties; it's worth your time to get to know them. Acorn squash has long been an American staple, but it's certainly not the most interesting flavor-wise. Three favorites - butternut, spaghetti squash and kabocha-can be found readily in large grocery stores. More exotic renditions, such as buttercup, red kuri, Hubbard and delicata, show up at farmers markets in early fall.
No matter what kind of squash you decide to try, select a squash that is heavy, rock hard and free of blemishes. When possible, choose squashes with their stems attached - these will keep the longest.
Once purchased, you'll need to address peeling and cutting the squash. Not all squashes need to be peeled, but if they do, peel using a vegetable peeler, then switch to a paring knife to trim any stubborn bits before cubing.
If you are not peeling your squash, be careful! Cutting through the tough skin requires a sharp knife and some pressure. Make sure your cutting board is stable and keep your eyes on the knife. Cut the squash in half, then scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Set the cut side down to cut into wedges or smaller pieces. Enlist help to cut up the squash. The reward is delicious!
After the squash is peeled, cut or sliced, you can keep it in the refrigerator for three to five days. This makes weekday squash cooking doable for time-pressured cooks. You can freeze raw diced squash on a baking sheet until solid. Then scoop the frozen pieces into a freezer-safe bag and freeze for up to six months, so you can make fresh squash soups, stews and braises all year long. Cooked squash also keeps well in the refrigerator and can be frozen.
The flesh isn't the only edible part of squash; the seeds can be rinsed, salted and slow-roasted in a 200 degree Fahrenheit oven, stirring often, for an hour or more, until crispy. They work great as a healthy desk snack or a crunchy addition to salads.
Note that most winter squash varieties are interchangeable in recipes with some subtle changes in flavor, though their yields will vary thusly:
- Kabocha: A 2 1/4-pound squash, peeled and seeded, yields 6 cups of cubes (about 2 pounds)
- Butternut: A 3-pound squash yields 3-4 cups of peeled cubes from bulbs and 1 1/4 pound of peeled round slabs from the neck
- Spaghetti squash: A 3-pound squash yields 4 generous cups of shredded cooked flesh (about 1 pound 14 ounces)
Now that you are armed with the knowledge of how to cook squash, test your skills with these five recipes.
GRILLED BUTTERNUT ROUNDS
Butternut squash is the gift that keeps on giving. I cut the bulbous end into cubes for roasting, steaming or soup. The longer neck of the squash can be peeled and sliced into round slabs, which are perfect for grilling.
Serve these grilled squash rounds on brioche rolls smeared with mayonnaise and topped with grilled onion and pickles for a very satisfying meatless burger. Or, sprinkle with herbs and a little lime juice and serve with cooked farro or French lentils.
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Makes: 6 slices
1 very large butternut squash, about 3 1/2 pounds, with a thick "neck" 3 inches or more in diameter
Expeller pressed canola oil, safflower oil or sunflower oil
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
1. Preheat a gas grill or prepare a charcoal grill for moderately low heat.
2. Cut the squash in half so you have the bulbous end and the longer neck. Save the bulbous end for another use (peeled and cubed for steaming, for example). Peel the neck of the squash, then lay it flat on a cutting board and use a large sharp knife to cut it into 3/8-inch thick rounds.
3. Place the rounds on a baking sheet and brush generously with oil. Sprinkle both sides with chili powder and salt.
4. Grill covered over low heat, turning once, until tender when pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes. Serve warm.
ROASTED ACORN SQUASH, TWO WAYS
Baking squash whole for a short period of time will soften it somewhat so it's easier to cut in half.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 1 1/4 hours
Makes: 2 servings
1 large acorn squash
Expeller pressed canola oil, safflower or sunflower oil
Coarse (kosher) salt
3 tablespoons Caper-raisin relish (see recipe) OR 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon sriracha
Chopped fresh herbs, such as chives, basil or cilantro
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Pierce 1 large acorn squash in several places with the tip of a sharp knife. Put into a baking dish. Bake until squash starts to soften, about 20 minutes, then remove from the oven.
2. Carefully cut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Brush cut side with oil. Sprinkle all over with salt. Return to the baking dish cut side up. Bake until flesh is tender when pierced with a fork, 40-50 minutes.
3. Spoon some of the Caper-raisin relish into each squash cavity. Or, put half of the butter and sriracha into each cavity. Return to the oven to heat through, about 10 minutes.
4. Serve hot or warm topped with herbs.
This nearly-addictive sweet and tangy caper raisin relish complements virtually everything from simple steamed squash to grilled poultry. Try it over pasta tossed with shredded Romano cheese for a bold-flavored dish. Omit the anchovies if they are not your thing, but replace them with some dried mushroom powder or a splash of soy sauce for an umami punch.
1/4 cup dark raisins
2 tablespoons very hot water
2 tablespoons drained capers
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 clove crushed garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons finely minced anchovy fillet or 1/2 teaspoon mushroom powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1. Put 1/4 cup dark raisins into a small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of very hot water and let stand 5 minutes. Drain water off raisins.
2. Stir in 2 tablespoons drained capers, 1 tablespoon each: balsamic vinegar, fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Stir in 1 clove crushed garlic, 1 1/2 teaspoons finely minced anchovy fillet (or substitute 1/2 teaspoon mushroom powder), 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon salt and black pepper.
3. Can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored covered in the refrigerator. Just before serving, stir in 1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil. Makes about 2/3 cup.
KABOCHA HASH WITH MINTED RICOTTA AND CAPER-RAISIN RELISH
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Makes: 2 main course or 4 side-dish servings
Caper raisin relish, see recipe in notes
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
4 cups (16-20 ounces) cubed, peeled kabocha squash (about 3/4-inch pieces)
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil or expeller pressed canola oil or safflower oil
1 medium-size red or sweet onion, peeled, halved, cut into 1/4-inch wedges
1 small poblano or red bell pepper, cored, diced 1/3-inch
1 small jalapeno, halved, seeded, finely chopped
1. Make Caper raisin relish.
2. Mix 1/2 cup ricotta, 1 tablespoon minced mint leaves, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Let stand at room temperature for up to 30 minutes or refrigerate covered for up to a day.
3. Put 4 cups kabocha squash cubes in a microwave-safe bowl and add 1/3 cup water. Cover with microwave-safe plastic wrap, vented at one corner. Microwave on high, stirring once or twice, until nearly tender, about 5 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes. Drain.
4. Heat a large, well-seasoned cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons oil, then 1 chopped onion. Cook, stirring often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in drained squash, 1 diced poblano and 1 finely-chopped jalapeno. Cook, mashing squash lightly until things start to get crusty and crispy, about 10 minutes.
5. Serve hot dolloped with minted ricotta and some of the caper raisin relish.
SPAGHETTI SQUASH WITH SPICY WALNUT PICADA AND PARMESAN
Spaghetti squash does best in a steamy environment. A microwave oven proves perfect. I cook one half at a time, cut side down in water. Then, after a cooling-off period, I use a large fork to pull it into long strands, hence its name. A container of cooked spaghetti squash strands keeps days in the refrigerator and reheats beautifully in the microwave. Season the strands as you would pasta - simply with oil and pepper - or lavishly with a walnut picada and cheese.
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Makes: 4-6 servings
1 spaghetti squash, about 3 pounds, halved lengthwise, seeds removed
3/4 cup walnut pieces
3 tablespoons walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley,
3 tablespoons chopped chives (or green onion tops)
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Finely grated zest from 1 lemon
Coarse (kosher salt), freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese
1. Put one spaghetti squash half, cut side down in a microwave-safe casserole dish. Add 1 inch of water to the dish. Cover with lid or microwave-safe plastic wrap vented at one corner. Microwave on high until squash pierces easily with the tip of a knife, about 10 minutes. Cool. Repeat to cook the other squash half.
2. Meanwhile, for walnut picada, toast 3/4 cup walnut pieces in a small nonstick skillet just until fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Do not walk away or nuts might burn. Cool on a cutting board, then chop finely.
3. Mix chopped walnuts, 3 tablespoons walnut oil, 3 tablespoons chopped parsley, 3 tablespoons chopped chives, 1/2 teaspoon minced rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon pepper flakes and lemon zest in a small bowl. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
4. Use the tines of a large fork to pull the cooked squash from the skin in long shreds. Place shreds in a serving bowl. Toss with one clove crushed garlic and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm sprinkled with the walnut picada. Offer the shredded cheese at the table.
APPLE AND BUTTERNUT SHEET PAN DINNER WITH CHICKEN SAUSAGE
Serve this with cornbread or corn muffins and plenty of soft butter for a satisfying fall supper.
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Makes: 4 servings
4 cups (16-20 ounces) cubed, peeled butternut squash
1 very large Honeycrisp apple, peeled, cored, cubed
1/2 large red or sweet onion, cut into 1/4-inch wide wedges
2 tablespoons expeller pressed canola oil, safflower oil or sunflower oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 fully cooked smoked chicken sausage or chicken sausage with apples, 12 ounces total
1/2 cup unfiltered apple cider
2 tablespoons unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh (or 1/2 teaspoon dried) thyme leaves or oregano, or a combination
Chopped fresh chives or parsley or a combination
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Mix 4 cups cubed, peeled butternut squash, once cubed apple and 1/2 onion cut into wedges on a large, rimmed sheet pan. Toss with 2 tablespoons oil and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Roast, stirring every 10 minutes, until squash is almost tender, about 30 minutes.
3. Add four fully-cooked chicken sausages, 2 tablespoons apple cider, vinegar and 1 teaspoon thyme to the pan. Roast, stirring once or twice, until sausages are warmed and golden, 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle with chives. Use a spoon to serve to scoop up any juices.