How to Prepare a Winter Squash

Your huge, heavy winter squash lands with a thud on the kitchen counter. How do you transform this thing into food–-without muttering expletives, making a mess, and possibly slicing off a finger?

True, these bad boys can be stubborn with your knife, refusing to yield into smooth slices or shed their skin.

To conquer the winter squash’s tough exterior and savor the mildly sweet flesh within, you must use a chef’s knife with at least an 8-inch blade that has been recently sharpened. Most accidents happen with dull knives.

Next, place a damp towel on a large cutting board for extra stability. Cut off both ends.

Wait!

First, check out this video on how to prepare a squash for your recipe.

There’s an easier, softer way. Just pierce your squash all over with the tip of the knife, and then you microwave the whole squash for 1 to 4 minutes, or stuff it in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes or so. Then start the excavation.

If you’re going to puree the squash for soup, pie, or something soft, you’ve got it easy. Cut the squash in half vertically. If it’s a butternut squash, cut the neck off and then proceed.

Scoop out the stringy seeds with a melon baller, ice cream scoop, or grapefruit spoon with serrated edges. Roast. The skin peels off easily with your hands after it’s roasted.

If you want cubed chunks of squash, you could wait until after roasting to peel and cube it, or slice off the skin while it’s raw. Usually a peeler is more cumbersome if there are ridges.

Now the winter squash is prepared for your recipe. Stuff it, puree it, mash it, or cube it for salads, pastas, and casseroles.

Compared to summer squash and zucchini, winter squash is denser, sweeter, and has a firmer texture. Prominent wintertime contenders include: acorn, blue Hubbard, buttercup, butternut, carnival, delicata, kabocha, spaghetti, sugar pumpkin, and sweet dumpling.

Try these winter squash recipes:

1. Roasted Butternut Squash with Pears

squash

Sometimes simple is best, such as this easy side dish that doesn’t require buying many ingredients. Uncomplicated as it is, the Bosc pears do infuse more interest into the savory dinner accompaniment.

2. Kabocha Squash Scotch Eggs

You want something unusual to do with your winter squash? Well, here it is. Try the Japanese-influenced, vegetarian version of a Scotch egg, in which kabocha squash and sweet potato replace the sausage meat that wraps around the egg. The red miso ups the umami. Wash it down with a good beer.

3. Spaghetti Squash Cakes

Transform this squash, not into pasta as its name suggests, but into latkes or potato cakes. Top the squash cakes with a dollop of sauce made with sour cream, chives and lemon.

4. Butternut Squash Lasagna

Take an Italian staple, turn it on its head, and wa-la: you get this piece of oven-baked heaven. This lasagna version may be vegetarian, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it isn’t a hearty, belly-warming winter recipe. Besides the butternut squash, cremini mushrooms, Bechamel sauce, and chestnuts, there’s all those drool-inducing Gorgonzola, fontina, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses.

5. Roasted Delicata Squash Salad

Roasted squash slices give salad more heft, a great way to transform your fresh greens into a winter-worthy dish. Delicata is so thin-skinned, there’s no need to peel it. Just cut it, seed it, and slice thin rounds of the sweet flesh.

6. Thai Red Curry with Kabocha Squash

This one-pot vegetarian meal is quick and easy enough for a weeknight meal … once you get the squash peeled, seeded, and cubed. And yes, it’s totally fine to use prepared red curry, especially on a weeknight. You’re not buying a whole coconut to make the coconut milk either, are you?

7. Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Parmigiano-Reggiano

Make the pasta that gave this squash its name, but don’t add a heavy red sauce to smother the delicate, slightly sweet, earthy flavor of the strands. Eat it traditional cacio e pepe style, with black pepper, olive oil, garlic, and shallots. Plus Parmigiano-Reggiano, of course.

8. Acorn Squash with Red Onions and Currants

Acorn squash halves are the perfect size for stuffing, but sometimes you want change. Sliced lengthwise into wedges, these acorns are draped with softened red onions and dried currants. Sweet, tangy, and peppery-hot flavors mingle, a strong enough side dish to stand up to a hearty roast.

9. Beet, Squash, and Radish Moroccan Stew

Winter vegetables abound in this vibrant, ruby-red stew. To make root vegetables more exciting, toss in chickpeas, yellow raisins, preserved lemon (or just lemon zest), honey, and harissa. Ladle this fragrant mix over couscous and sprinkle chopped, fresh cilantro and toasted, sliced almonds.

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