The Joys of Winter Squash
Few vegetables are as dependable – or as heartily satisfying – during these cold months as winter squashes. While most other vegetables are coming from the hothouse and do not have the same flavor as the spring crops, this is the time when winter squash is at its flavor peak. I can find a wide assortment at my grocer: From butternut to kabocha, there is a squash for any meal, savory or sweet.
A personal favorite and one of the most common winter squash is the butternut squash: tender, creamy flesh packed with as much beta-carotene as flavor. I use a chef’s knife to cut the squash in half lengthwise, to reveal the orange meat inside. Butternut squash has enough body and low enough water content to roast well. Roasted, it is good enough on its own, but the softened chunks can be pureed as well. Try stirring this into polenta or risotto – or let it silken a cheese soup.
The other most common of the winter squashes is acorn squash. Shaped like a giant version of its name sake, the acorn squash is a great baking squash. The sweet, slightly fibrous flesh has a mild flavor that can be sweet or savory depending on how it is prepared. The large seed cup provides an ideal space for stuffing.
For something a bit different, there are a number of other winter squashes that are perfect for any meal.
The Japanese pumpkin or kabocha squash has a richly sweet, sunset-orange flesh that becomes dry and flaky when cooked. It can be prepared similarly to butternut squash, but can stand-alone better. It is delicious cubed in Italian wedding soup, roasted for grain salads, or even added to stuffing for meat. Since its flavor can be somewhat cloying, I do not recommend mashing it as a side dish.
Striped with green, yellow, and orange, delicata squash’s sweet, soft flavor makes it perfect for simple preparations. The thin skin of the squash means that you can simply leave the peel on when cooking. Saute 1/4-inchrings and top a salad of hearty greens like baby kale with crumbled goat cheese. Cubes of boiled delicata are also great additions to grain salads such as wheat berries with roasted fennel.
Spaghetti squash is as fun to cook as it is delicious, especially if your family has kids. They will love twirling it around a fork—like its namesake pasta. It could not be easier to prepare: Cut in half and place in a preheated 350 F oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until tender. Need a quicker preparation? This is one veggie that loves the microwave. Prick the flesh generously with a knife, microwave whole on a plate for 10 to 12 minutes. Let the squash stand in the closed microwave for five minutes to finish steaming. Once cooked, separate the strands with a fork. I like this as a side dish, mixed with crispy shallots, bacon pieces, salt, and pepper. For an entree, top the “noodles” with a Bolognese sauce and grated Parmesan.
Few of us think of pumpkin as a winter squash, but it is as vitamin-rich and versatile as its cousins. Use pumpkin puree in vegetable soups such as carrot, breakfast fruit smoothies, quick breads, baked oatmeal, and cream sauces for pasta. For a cozy dessert, bake a ginger pumpkin cake, topped with candied ginger and dark chocolate curls, or pumpkin-infused bread pudding.
Quick Tips for Winter Squash
- Every part of the squash plant can be eaten, including the leaves, flowers, and tender shoots
- With few exceptions, the different varieties of winter squash may be substituted for each other in recipes
- The terms “winter” and “summer” can be misleading when it comes to squash. For the most part, squash are classified as winter because they last for long periods in storage
- The winter squash’s flavor is typically at its peak once cooler weather begins
- Select squash that have dull-colored skin, firm shells, and are heavy for their size
- It is best to store the squash with part of the stem still attached to help hold the moisture
- The skin on squash is easiest to remove after the squash is cooked
Butternut Squash and Bean Soup
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium (about 6 ounces) carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium (about 8 ounces) yellow onion, diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2″ cubes
One 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
One 15-ounce can cannellini beans
8 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 small head (about 8 cups) Savoy cabbage, core removed and leaves thinly shredded
1 bunch (about 6 cups) Swiss chard, stems discarded and leaves coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
One 2″ piece Parmesan rind plus grated cheese for serving
freshly ground black pepper
10 thin slices baguette or a country loaf
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
extra virgin olive oil for serving
Set an electric pressure cooker to brown according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Warm the olive oil in the pressure cooker, add the carrots, celery and onions and salt the vegetables lightly. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are slightly softened and the onion is translucent, 5 to 7 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the butternut squash, tomatoes, cannellini beans, broth, cabbage, chard, bay leaf and Parmesan rind. Stir to combine the ingredients.
Place the lid on the pressure cooker and cook on high for 10 minutes according to the manufacturer’s instructions, or until the vegetables are tender.
Meanwhile, make the Parmesan crisps. Lightly brush the bread slices with olive oil on both sides. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. Top each bread slice with grated Parmesan. Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown and crispy, 5 to 7 minutes. Let cool.
Release the pressure according to the manufacturer’s instructions and carefully remove the lid. Using a stick blender, puree the soup to desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve with grated Parmesan. Serves 8.
Acorn Squash Stuffed with Spiced Apple
1 acorn squash, halved
1 apple, peeled cored and sliced
2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
dash of cloves
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 1-quart baking dish.
Halve an acorn squash and remove the seeds. Place the squash, skin side up, in the dish and cover. Bake for 30 minutes.
In medium bowl combine the apple, butter, brown, sugar, ground cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Turn cut sides of the acorn squash up and top with the apple mixture.
Cover and bake 30 minutes longer or until the apples are tender.
Curried Squash Soup With Lemongrass and Coconut Milk
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 pounds squash, sliced
2 teaspoon each minced fresh ginger and garlic
1 stalk lemongrass, smashed, cut into 3″ long pieces
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoon curry powder
1 cup coconut milk
Chicken or vegetable broth
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped for garnish
In a medium ovenproof pot, heat a thin film of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and saute until translucent. Add squash, another pinch of salt and saute until tender, being careful not to brown. Add the ginger, garlic and lemongrass and saute until fragrant. Stir in pepper flakes and curry powder and cook until fragrant.
Stir in the coconut milk and enough broth to just cover the vegetables. Cover, reduce heat to very low, and simmer to meld flavors, about 5 minutes.
Remove the lemongrass stalks and puree the soup using a stick or stand blender. Strain through a strainer into a clean pot. Adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve hot or cold, garnished with chopped cilantro.
Your Turn: What’s your favorite squash recipe?