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Ways to Cook Winter Squash

November 7, 2014
by Cornelia Emlen

Winter squash are wonderful for their distinctive flavors, their storage qualities and for their versatility.  Their rich taste and ability to work beautifully in sweet or savory dishes make them adored by many cooks. Roasted, mashed, curried, baked into breads or pies, blended into soups — squash is surprisingly flavorful, multi-talented, and can easily play the starring role or a supporting part in any of your fall or winter cooking.

Butternut, Delicata (whose skin is so delicate that even a fussy eater will gobble it up), Buttercup, Hubbard, Acorn and others, each have a slightly different flavor but can pretty much be used, interchangeably in any of the suggested recipes, below.  They are great unto themselves or partnered with vegetables and/or beans.  They are also fabulous when paired with meat, in particular, pork, lamb or sausage.

In general, winter squash are easy to prepare although if you want to cook them without their skin caution should be taken when peeling them as you’ll need a sharp knife.

Try some of the ideas below and experiment with various accompaniments.  Sage, thyme, rosemary, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, caraway seeds, chili, cumin, garlic, coconut, curry, nuts and maple syrup are wonderfully compatible. You’ll find that different combinations of spices or herbs can totally transform the same recipe.

Buttercup Squash with Maple Syrup

Baked Squash:  The absolute easiest as well as a delicious way to cook winter squash is simply to cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, place it face down on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for approximately 30 to 45 minutes.  When tender all the way through (check with the tip of a knife) melt some butter in the cavity and, if you’d like a bit of extra sweetness, drizzle with maple syrup.

Squash Soup:  Wonderful pureed, or chopped, with most any combination of apples, leeks, fennel, celery, onions, carrots and garlic.  Great with either vegetable or meat stock. (See Butternut Squash Ginger Carrot Soup and Butternut Squash and Apple Soup for two recent recipes)

Roasted Squash:  Simply toss cubed winter squash with a bit of oil and salt and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  The squash gets soft on the inside with a bit of a crunch to their edge and the flavor, as with most roasted vegetables, gets sweeter and nuttier.  Cut into long, thin strips for a variation of French Fries.  Serve as is or season or with any of the accompaniments mentioned above.  Add to a salad, puree in a soup, or combine with other vegetables in a casserole. (See Quick Roasted Delicata Squash recipe)

Mashed Squash:  Bake as described above, then scoop flesh out of its shell and mash with a fork.  (For a smoother texture, use a food processor.)  Also fantastic pureed with pears/apples and onions that have been slowly cooked either in a saute pan or in the oven along with the squash.  Add butter to taste.  Wonderful served as a side to pork or poultry.  A great Thanksgiving dish.

Squash Salad:  Combine roasted chunks of winter squash with goat or sheep feta, greens (try spinach, kale or mustard), toasted walnuts, and even some dried cranberries for extra color and sweetness.  Toss with a citrus or balsamic vinaigrette.

Stewed Squash:  Slowly cook cubes of peeled winter squash with onion and tomatoes until tender.  Add cooked chickpeas or lentils.  Try seasoning with either a combination or coconut milk and curry or for a totally different taste, use a bit of sage, garlic and thyme. Delicious served on a bed or rice.

Squash Au Gratin Casserole:  Either roast or stir fry small cubes of squash.  Combine with other lightly cooked vegetables, beans and seasonings of choice.  Spread in an oiled casserole pan and mix with several beaten eggs.  Top with crumbled, bread crumbs and shredded cheese.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Squash Fritters:  Grate squash and toss with a bit of flour and egg.  Season with either cinnamon and nutmeg for a sweet fritter, or with a bit of onion, bacon and sage for a savory version.  Pan fry in a combination of butter and oil.

Squash Pancakes:  Blend mashed or pureed pumpkin or squash into a favorite pancake recipe and serve with maple syrup.

Stuffed Squash:  Cut a Delicata, Butternut, or Buttercup in half and remove seeds.  Bake face down on a baking sheet (see above) until soft.  Remove from oven.  Scoop out cooked flesh, and mix with your choice of other cooked vegetables or grains.  Season with salt and pepper and your favorite herbs. Refill squash skins and top with some toasted nuts.  Return to the oven to bake for another 15 minutes or more.  Before serving, add a bit of grated cheese, if desired.

roast pumpkin seeds

Roasted Squash Seeds:  Scoop out pumpkin or squash seeds.  Rinse in a colander and remove any bits of stringy flesh (be prepared to have your hands get a bit slimy).  Place seeds in a saucepan and boil in salted water for 10 minutes.  (This ensures that the insides and outsides cook evenly when you roast them.)  Drain seeds and lay out on a paper towel.  When dry, toss with a bit of sunflower or olive oil and salt.  Spread out in a single layer on a parchment covered baking sheet and roast, stirring occasionally, in a 325 degree oven, until crispy and lightly browned (approximately 15 minutes).  Adjust seasoning and add salt if needed.  Experiment with different seasonings like chili, cinnamon or curry.

Steamed Squash:  Peel and cut squash into small cubes.  Place in a steamer basket over an inch or two of boiling water.  Cook, covered, until tender.  Place in serving dish with butter and spices of choice.

Sauteed Squash:  Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a heavy fry pan.  Add chopped onion, celery and large-diced squash and cook over medium heat.  Season.  Toss in some chopped kale or spinach and let wilt on the hot squash.  Add a splash of lemon juice or tahini. (See Stir-Fried Tofu, Red Cabbage and Winter Squash recipe)

squash quesadillas

Squash Quesadillas:  Combine roasted squash cubes with cooked black beans seasoned with cooked onions and garlic and seasoned with cumin, cilantro and chili.  Spread between two flour tortillas with a generous amount of grated cheddar.  Pan cook over medium heat in a large skillet, flipping after the first side has browned slightly.  Serve with salsa and avacodo.  For burritos, roll mixture in a tortilla instead.

Squash Appetizers:  Pan cook thin moons of Delicata squash in a bit of butter. Add each moon to a piece of caramelized bacon (See Caramelized Bacon with Pecans and Delicata Moons recipe).  Or try topping a savory cornmeal and flour crust covered with ricotta cheese with small bits of roasted squash and onion or shallot (variation on Ricotta and Chard Galette recipe).

Squash Bread, Muffins, Donuts:  Winter squash and pumpkin make for moist and fabulous baked goods.  Try them with or without the addition of chocolate and nuts.

pumpkin butter

Pumpkin/Squash Butter:  What makes this so good is baking the squash/pumpkins twice to intensify their flavor.  Use 3 pounds of any squash or pumpkin.  Cut in half, remove seeds and bake until tender, cut side down, in a 400 degree oven.  Slightly cool mixture and then scoop out cooked flesh and place in a bowl.  Mash with 2 cups light brown sugar, 1 stick of unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon nutmeg, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, ¼ teaspoon ground cloves and 1 teaspoon of salt.  Spread out in a 9 x 13 inch glass baking pan and cook for another hour and fifteen minutes in a 350 degree oven, stirring every fifteen minutes or so.  The results will be dark, thick, and magnificently flavorful.  Puree in a food processor.  Makes wonderful holiday gifts and freezes well.

Squash Creme Brulee:  Add pureed squash or pumpkin to a simple custard recipe (eggs, milk/cream and sugar).  Cook as is or top with sugar and make a caramelized sugar crust with either a cooking torch or by quickly broiling in your oven.

Squash Dog Treats:  Most dogs love cooked squash, skins included, so be sure to save any extra bits for your favorite four footed friends.