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How to Cook Winter Squash

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Winter-Squash

These hearty, sometimes intimidating veggies are surprisingly easy to prep and cook.

Winter squashes can be daunting. Some varieties are large, some are hard-skinned — and they’re all a bit awkward to prep. But with a few techniques, you can use these versatile vegetables in an array of dishes.

Unlike tender summer squash, winter varieties are harvested in autumn after their skins have thickened. Hardy rinds allow them to be stored through the winter in a cool, dry place (note: not the fridge).

These squashes are a significant source of fiber and also contain vitamins B and C, magnesium, and potassium. Their colorful flesh offers a healthy dose of beta carotene — and is high in natural sugars.

Roasting will give winter squashes a sweet, lightly caramelized flavor. You can simply cut them in half, scoop out the seeds, drizzle with olive oil, and cook in the oven at 350 degrees F until tender. But if you first cut them into cubes or slices, the increased surface area offers more crispy, golden flesh.

Either way, the dry heat of the oven will soften the tough skins, many of which are edible when cooked. You can also stir uncooked or roasted squash into stews and curries, or purée it into soup to capture the full flavor of the fall harvest.

Know Your Winter Squashes

Chart of squash variations

How to Prep Squash

Stabilize: Using a sturdy, sharp chef’s knife, remove about ¼ inch from the bottom and top of the squash to create a flat surface on both ends.

Peel: Hold the squash so the base is resting on the cutting board. Use downward strokes with a vegetable peeler or chef’s knife to remove the skin.

Cut: Slice the squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Cut flesh into cubes or slices; store raw in the fridge for five days or the freezer for up to three months.

Roasted Cubed Squash

Roasted-Cubed-SquashPhotos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman
Makes six servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 to 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 medium squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed, about 3 cups (see “How to Prep Squash,” above)
  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp. sea salt
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Toss cubed squash with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Place squash on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until tender and lightly browned, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Tip: Try adding a teaspoon of a warming spice — cinnamon, allspice, cumin, coriander, ginger, or turmeric — before roasting. Or experiment with dried herbs like rosemary, sage, or thyme.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Roasted-Butternut-Squash-SoupPhotos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman
Makes six servings
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 35 to 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, plus a drizzle for garnish
  • ½ tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 tsp. ground allspice
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon, plus a sprinkle for garnish
  • 3 tsp. freshly grated gingerroot, or ¼ tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 apples, unpeeled, rinsed, and cut into 1-in. cubes
  • 1 small (about 1 lb.) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-in. cubes (about 5 cups)
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more if needed
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a small bowl combine the olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and the allspice, cinnamon, and ginger, and stir until combined. Toss the apples and butternut squash with the spice mixture until evenly coated, and place them in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 25 minutes, or until tender.
  3. Pour 2 cups broth into a blender; add about a third of the roasted squash and apples, and blend until smooth, adding more broth as needed. Transfer to a soup pot over low heat, and repeat the process two more times with the remaining broth, squash, and apples.
  4. Add ¼ teaspoon salt, the pepper, and lemon juice. Taste; you may need another spritz of lemon juice or a pinch of salt.
  5. Garnish with olive oil, cinnamon, and parsley. Serve warm. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days or in the freezer for up to three months.

Moroccan-Spiced Chicken Thighs With Kabocha Squash

Moroccan-Spiced-Chicken-Thighs-With-Kabocha-SquashPhotos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman
Makes four servings
Prep time: 20 minutes, plus time to marinate chicken
Cook time: 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
  • 3 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground turmeric
  • 2 kabocha squashes, seeded and cut lengthwise into 8 slices each
  • 1 tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds, for garnish
  • 1 tbs. chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
  • 1 tbs. fresh mint, for garnish

Directions

  1. Place the chicken in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons olive oil and the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and turmeric; toss to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 45 minutes or overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Toss the squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
  4. Place the squash and chicken (skin side up) on the baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Bake 40 minutes or until juices run clear and an instant-read thermometer inserted into a thigh reaches 160 degrees F. (The chicken will continue to cook a bit after it’s removed from the oven.) Allow to rest 15 minutes.
  5. Transfer the chicken and squash to a serving platter and garnish with pomegranate seeds, cilantro, and mint. Serve warm.
WEB EXTRA!

Roasted Squash Bowls With Quinoa Pilaf, Greens, and Pistachios

Roasted-Squash-BowlsPhotos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

The outer skins of acorn and dumpling squashes soften as they’re cooked, so you can eat the whole “bowl.”

Makes four servings
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes

Ingredients for the squash:

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1 tbs. plus 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced small
  • ¼ tsp. ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp. ground coriander
  • 1¾ cups water or vegetable stock
  • ½ tsp. sea salt, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Pinch red-pepper flakes
  • ½ cup dried cranberries or raisins
  • 6 cups stemmed and chopped Swiss chard or kale, in bite-size pieces
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ cup pistachios, roughly chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Prepare and cook the squashes: Slice the bottoms off so that the squashes will sit level on the sheet; cut off the rounded tops and scoop out the strings and seeds. Stir the olive oil, salt, allspice, ginger, cinnamon, and red-pepper flakes together in a bowl, then use a brush to spread the spice mixture over the inside of the squashes. Place the squashes top side down on the prepared pan and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until tender. (Check after 20 minutes by touching the top of a squash with your finger. Once it’s soft, remove the squashes from the oven and cover with foil until you’re ready to fill them.)
  3. Meanwhile, make the filling: Put the quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse well under running cold water. Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté until soft, about three minutes. Stir in the cumin and coriander, then stir in the quinoa. Stir in the stock and ¼ teaspoon salt; cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid. Remove from the heat and fluff with a fork.
  4. While the quinoa is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat, then add the garlic, red-pepper flakes, and cranberries. Stir for 10 seconds, then add the Swiss chard and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Sauté until the greens are tender, about three minutes for chard, five minutes for kale. Remove from the heat and stir in a squeeze of lemon juice.
  5. Assemble the dish: Spoon the quinoa mixture into the squash, then top each squash with a scoop of the greens. Sprinkle with pistachios and serve warm.

MS, director of the Healing Kitchens Institute at Commonweal, is the author of several cookbooks, including The Healthy Mind Cookbook and Clean Soups (from which the Roasted Butternut Squash Soup recipe was adapted). She lives in San Rafael, Calif.

Photos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

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