With crisp evening air and a basket full of apples, fall whispers its entrance. I make a mad dash to preserve all that was summer with popping jars of hot tomatoes on my counter tops. Summer is nearly gone.
The fall vegetables I now see bring relief. No canning involved in storing potatoes, beets, and my favorite – winter squash. You couldn’t talk me into eating these winter treasures for the first 23 years of my life. We now eat it in one form or another a few times a week during the cooler months. And everyone in our family – young and old – cannot get enough.
If you’ve never been a fan of squash, then let me tell you a little secret: squash can be absolutely delicious, versatile, useful, and healthy, you just have to know how to use it.
How to Choose a Good Squash
Look for clean, thick skin with no scuffs or blemishes. For the squash to keep well you want a piece of the vine to still be attached and the skin should not give when pressed.
There are many types of winter squash, all with different flavors and textures. Here’s a run down of the ones you’re most likely to come across.
Photo by Ellenm1
- Acorn – To my tastes this acorn-shaped variety has a vague squash flavor with very little sweetness. I prefer it in combination with other ingredients instead of as a stand alone dish.
- Butternut – With a cream-colored skin and orange, sweet flesh it is versatile and easy to find. Works well on its own or in combination with other ingredients.
- Buttercup – A round, green variety with a blueish bulge at the bottom. It is similar in sweetness to butternut, but with a more dense flesh.
- Spaghetti – A yellow, oblong variety that is used like pasta, as it’s name suggests. Very light on squash-flavor means it works well with robust sauces. Perfect if you’re restricting your carbohydrate intake.
- Delicata – A yellow speckled oblong variety similar to butternut in flavor, but with a lighter color.
- Carnival – Similar in shape to an acorn squash and similar in color to a delicata. I find this variety sweet and dense.
- Kabocha – A green or orange round squash, similar in appearance to a buttercup but without the bulge on the bottom. Kabocha means pumpkin in Japanese and shares the dense texture to the pumpkins we know. It is sweet and delicious – my favorite variety.
- Hubbard – A large blueish variety with an orange flesh. I find the larger ones can be too watery and prefer the denser flesh of the smaller hubbards.
- Pumpkin – This familiar fall standby is actually quite delicious, but not the variety that many carve up in October. The smaller “sugar” pumpkins have a denser, sweeter, flesh and make a delicious pie.
Winter Squash: Making Seasonal Eating Easy
In my dream world we would all have a root cellar. We are renters, however, and we attempt common sense eating. That means we eat Asparagus in April, strawberries in June and squash in December.
The great thing about winter squash is that even without a root cellar you can store it for months. All you need is some space in a cool room. I stored dozens of winter squash from October through spring last year and all it took was a bit of space in our unheated extra bedroom.
I think we had a 95% storage success rate!
Photo by Aroberts
How To Prepare Winter Squash for Cooking
If you’ve never worked with squash (or even if you have) these big, thick skinned guys can be intimidating. Don’t worry, though, all you need is a cutting board and a chef’s knife to dig into them. Here’s how I do it:
1. Create a flat surface. Slice off a thin layer of the bottom or sides in order to create a flat surface. This will ensure that it won’t roll around as you cut into it.
2. Peel. Unless you have a super peeler you’ll want to use your chef’s knife to thinly peel the skin while you prop it up on it’s now flat bottom.
3. Cut it in half. This will seem difficult the first time. It is best to keep your hands out of the way of the knife and put some weight on the top of the knife as you cut through.
4. De-seed. Use a spoon to remove the seeds and stringy innards of the squash.
Cooking the Squash
Squash is a sweet vegetable similar to carrots and beets. The best way to accentuate it’s delicious flavor is to cook it at a high heat and allow it to caramelize. A lot of tutorials tell you to add water, but I find that this simply waters down the final product.
Squash can be used either as a side dish or a main event, such as an Autumn Millet and Squash Bake, (my favorite!) Also, just because a recipe calls for butternut, don’t be afraid to try one of the similarly flavored squashes listed above.
The options are endlessly delicious, but we most often eat it simply roasted with grass-fed butter as a side dish in place of grains, potatoes, or bread.
Recipe: Simple Roasted Squash
- 1 medium squash
- sea salt to taste
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- After preparing your squash (without peeling) lay it skin side down on a baking sheet. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until a knife easily pierces through the largest part of the squash.
- Remove pan and allow to cool enough to handle. Scoop out flesh and mash with butter and sea salt. Enjoy.
How about you… are you looking forward to winter squash as much as I am?