Winter Squash Prep
Use the Microwave: Intimidated by the idea of cutting through squash’s thick skin? Soften it first. Wash the squash, then use a sharp knife to poke a line of small slits in the skin where you plan to slice the squash in half. Microwave for 5 to 6 minutes (time varies depending on the type and size of squash) or until slightly softened. Allow squash to cool slightly before carefully sliding a knife through the slits to cut it in half.
To Skin or Not to Skin: While most winter squashes have hard and bitter-tasting skins, some types including delicata and kabocha have edible and better-tasting skin, especially when roasted. There’s no need to remove the skin before cooking if you plan to puree the flesh, because it’s much easier to scoop flesh out of the skin after cooking.
To remove the skin before cooking, slice off the bottom of the squash and place it flat on a cutting board. Cut a larger squash, such as butternut, in half width wise to make it more manageable. Place squash securely on a cutting board and peel in a downward motion with a sharp peeler such as a Y-peeler. You also can use a knife.
Cut This Way: How you plan to prepare the squash usually informs how to cut it. For butternut or acorn squash that will be pureed and spaghetti squash that will be scraped out, cut squash in half lengthwise following the microwave tip above; scoop out the seeds, then roast cut-sides-down on an oiled baking sheet with a lip in a 375°F oven for 35 to 45 minutes or until you can easily pierce the skin with a fork. To cube winter squash, peel it first then carefully cut into ½-inch cubes of equal size to ensure even cooking when roasting, boiling or pansautéing.
For winter squash with edible skin, scrub the skin and cut in half, following its natural groves. Acorn squash can be sliced into wedges and delicata can be cut into half-moons.
Save the Seeds: Noshing on pumpkin seeds is popular, but butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash seeds also can be scooped out and roasted to make a crunchy snack or salad topper.
Winter Squash Recipe Hacks
Power of the Puree: Place cooked winter squash flesh in a blender and add ¼ cup milk or broth at a time until the consistency is smooth. Mix ½ cup to ¾ cup of puree into sauce for macaroni and cheese or into pasta sauce for added flavor, color and nutrients. Or mix puree with broth, milk or coconut milk and spices for a quick soup. Freeze puree in small portions for future use.
Go for the Whole: You can cook an entire sugar or pie pumpkin in the oven. Clean the skin of the pumpkin, then place it on a rimmed baking pan and cover loosely with foil. Add 2 cups water to the pan and bake at 375°F for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the pumpkin is easily pierced with a fork. Cool slightly, then cut the top open. Remove seeds and flesh. Use the flesh in your favorite recipe and, if you wish, broil the seeds until crisp for a snack. Use the pumpkin shell to serve soup or a savory bread pudding.
Snack Sweet or Savory: Use this formula for any type of winter squash seeds: 1 teaspoon oil + ¼ teaspoon salt + 1 cup seeds. Spread seasoned seeds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast in the oven at 400°F. Roast smaller seeds for about 10 minutes and larger seeds for about 15 minutes. Experiment with different flavor combinations, such as cinnamon sugar or rosemary black pepper.
Veggies for Dessert: Think beyond pumpkin pie. Sweet kabocha and butternut squash are delicious additions to many classic desserts. Roasted and pureed, they can be whisked into a basic pudding recipe or mixed into softened vanilla ice cream.
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Rombauer I, Rombauer B, Becker E. Joy of Cooking. New York: Scribner; 2006.
Bittman M. How to Cook Everything. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2013.