How to Cook Squash, 10 Ways

From the everyday to the unusual, there's something for everyone

When the winter squash starts to roll in, like its cousin, zucchini, it is almost too plentiful. Yet you could cook winter squash every day from now until spring and never repeat yourself, especially with all the “new” (that is, old) varieties out there. 

Think: squash soup, squash ravioli, roasted, braised, grilled, turned into a salad, tossed in stir-fries, made into tempura, stuffed, even microwaved …. There are so many options that squash has earned its own McSweeney’s essay-slash-meme that’s resurrected as soon as the leaves turn. 

Once we cut into that first squash of the season, though, we’re reminded that it’s the least user-friendly veg in the fall arsenal. Sure, you can cut slits in the gourd and microwave it for three or so minutes to soften the skin (and this works great), but you still need a sharp knife and a little elbow grease.

While we're on the subject of knives — and no, this is not a paid post —new to us, and something we’re now totally into, is the Brod & Taylor knife sharpener, with its spring-action sharpening bars. (The company says they’ll last at least five years.) These allow you to adjust sharpening to the angle of the blade, from fillet-sharp to a rugged chopping knife. Check it out here (it’s $59) — and read on for 10 variations on squash for the season.


Raw Butternut Squash Salad with Raisins and Ginger

There’s great pleasure to be found in feasting on autumn vegetables served raw, with a minimum of preparation. With a little shredding, grating, chopping, slicing, or mincing, the tough, sometimes starchy character of late fall vegetables yields, allowing their robust flavors to take center stage.

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and grated

  • 1/2 cup raisins

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, or to taste

  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Combine the squash, raisins, oil, vinegar, and ginger in a salad bowl; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to several hours.

— Recipe from The New York Times

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Grilled Acorn Squash with Smoky Maple Butter

For hearty grillers or our friends in warm-weather climes, this super simple side is the perfect combination of sweet and savory. Plus, it not only helps free up precious oven space, but is a really effective way to get your obnoxious uncle out of the kitchen for a bit (“Hey, Uncle Jack. I’ve got an important job for you. Just grab your coat…”).

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 40 to 60 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 acorn squash (1 1 ⁄ 2 – 2 pounds each)

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter

  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (pimentón) 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • Salt and pepper

  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

Instructions

1. Start the coals or heat a gas grill for medium direct cooking. Make sure the grates are clean.

2. Cut the squash in half from top to bottom. Use a spoon, serrated grapefruit spoon, or melon baller to remove all the seeds and fibers. If necessary, take a thin slice of the uncut side so the squash half sits on the cutting board without rocking. Melt the butter in small skillet over medium heat. Add the paprika and cumin and stir until fragrant. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and stir in the maple syrup. Brush the seasoned butter over the cut sides and interior of the squash. Pour any remaining butter into the wells of the squash. (You can prepare the squash up to this point several hours in advance, cover, and refrigerate until you’re ready to grill.)

3. Put the squash on the grill directly over the fire, skin side down. Close the lid and cook until the flesh is fork-tender, 25 to 45 minutes, depending on the size; start checking doneness at 20 minutes. Transfer to a platter and serve.

—Recipe from How to Grill Everything

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Stuffed Butternut Squash

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 2 hours

Ingredients

  • 2 medium butternut

  • 1 ⁄ 4 cup olive oil, plus more for rubbing squash

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 ⁄ 2 cup dried porcini or other mushrooms

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • 1 ⁄ 2 cup dry red wine

  • 1 cup vegetable stock or water

  • 10 fresh sage leaves, chopped

  • Zest of 1 lemon

READ THE RECIPE


Ethan Frisch’s Spiced Winter Squash

Ethan originally used nutmeg fruit (the thing that surrounds the nutmeg that we’re all familiar with) as one of the seasonings here, but it’s hard to find. No problem. The fruit is a bit tart, so he recommends using some lemon rind to add a bit of acidity.

Makes: 4 servings
Time: Over an hour

Ingredients

  • 2 medium-sized butternut or honeynut squash

  • 1 stick butter

  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mace

  • The rind of a half-lemon

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger, or 1 teaspoon dried

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Cut the squash in half the long way, scoop out the seeds, and score the flesh. 

2. Melt the butter gently and mix with all remaining ingredients. Brush that mixture over the squash, mostly in the cavity but in the scored part too. 

3. Roast on a sheet pan, checking occasionally, until the squash is soft, 45 to 60 minutes. Turn the heat up to 400 °F and brown just a little bit. Sprinkle with a tiny bit more salt and serve. (A dollop of cold yogurt on top would also be pretty great.)

— Recipe from Ethan Frisch

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Winter Squash, Braised and Glazed

The braised-and-glazed collection in How to Cook Everything: Vegetarian allows you to try this technique for a handful of vegetables: turnips, parsnips, carrots, beets, radishes, waxy potatoes. Squash gets a little fuzzy, and if I were to use this technique with squash again, I’d treat squash like meat and reverse the steps, using the hot pan to brown the squash, then braise it. However you decide to cook it, the squash tastes delicious. You can season this simply, with salt and pepper. Or experiment if you’d like, with chopped nuts; or a quarter cup of miso; swapping olive oil with butter, and adding honey. I used hot pepper and mint, my go-to squash seasoning. No matter what kind of squash you have on hand, the recipe will work with any variety.

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic

  • 1 1/2 pounds of winter squash, any kind, peeled and cut into 1/2- to 1-inch cubes

  • 1/4 cup vegetable stock or water

  • Salt and pepper

  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

  • A dash of hot pepper flakes (optional)

  • A couple sprigs of mint, chopped (optional)

    READ THE RECIPE


Winter Squash with Hot Pepper, Garlic, and Mint

Don’t underestimate the deliciousness of this dish from Rick Easton, baker from Bread & Salt in Jersey City. It makes a good topping for grilled or toasted bread, a filling for a sandwich, or a side.  

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 densely fleshed winter squash or pumpkin, such as kabocha, kuri, or even butternut

  • Olive oil

  • Sea salt

  • 1 garlic clove

  • 1 fresh hot red chile pepper (may substitute sliced hot peppers preserved in oil)

  • White wine vinegar

  • A handful of fresh mint leaves

READ THE RECIPE


Winter Squash Curry

Preparing raw winter squash takes some practice, but since you’ll want to make this otherwise-easy recipe all the time, you’ll get a knack for it quickly. Serve with some plain steamed or boiled rice.

Makes: 4 servings
Time: About 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons good-quality vegetable oil

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon curry powder

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger

  • 1 chopped fresh chile, like jalapeño or Thai

  • 1 1/2 pounds butternut or other winter squash, peeled and chopped

  • 1 cup coconut milk

  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter

  • Salt and pepper

  • Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

READ THE RECIPE


Pasta with Winter Squash and Tomatoes

If we're being truthful, this sweater weather recipe should really be called "winter squash and tomatoes with pasta," as the 2 pounds of squash far outweigh the ½ pound of penne it calls for. I think that's a good thing. Every single piece of pasta gets a generous coating of sauce, and there's even some left over after the pasta is long gone. That's what bread is for.

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • Salt and pepper

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic

  • ¼ cup sliced shallots

  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes

  • 1 ½ to 2 pounds peeled, cubed, or shredded butternut or other winter squash, about 5 cups

  • ½ pound cut pasta, like ziti or penne

  • Freshly chopped parsley or parmesan for garnish

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Penne with Pumpkin or Squash

I love filled pasta, but I rarely have the time or energy to make it. So, when I became enamored of pasta con zucca — a ravioli-like affair stuffed with the Italian equivalent of pumpkin — I created this alternative, which is not quite as elegant but tastes just as good. If you cannot find a small pumpkin — the only kind whose flesh is dense enough for this dish — use butternut squash. Peel either with a paring knife; their skins are too tough for vegetable peelers.

Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound peeled and seeded pumpkin or butternut squash

  • Salt and black pepper to taste

  • 2 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 pound penne or other cut pasta

  • 1 / 2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or more to taste

  • 1 /8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste

  • 1 teaspoon sugar, optional

  • 1 /2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

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Caramel-Braised Winter Squash with Jackfruit

Squash and jackfruit (more on that in a sec) may not seem like an obvious combination but braised together in a soy sauce caramel tinged with garlic, shallots, and lime…it’s kind of magic (and vegan). A word on buying Jackfruit: You want “young” or “green” canned jackfruit, not the fully ripe, stinky fruit. Stay away from the kind packed in syrup; choose a brand canned in water or brine and rinse it thoroughly to remove as much of the vinegary taste as possible.

Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 1⁄2 pounds any winter squash

  • Salt

  • 3 tablespoons good-quality vegetable oil

  • 1⁄3 cup soy sauce

  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste

  • 3⁄4 cup sugar

  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic

  • 2 shallots, halved and sliced

  • 8 ounces canned jackfruit, rinsed, patted dry, and cut into chunks

  • 1 teaspoon pepper

  • 1 ⁄ 2 cup chopped raw cashews

  • 1 fresh red chile (like serrano or cayenne), minced, or to taste

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Squash Soup

All of the other members of the hard-skinned squash family, from the most common (butternut squash and pumpkin) to the most esoteric (look around: they’re everywhere), are great. All of them (except maybe the oversized pumpkins used for jack-o-lanterns, which are not bred for eating, really) deliver incredibly smooth texture when puréed, with or without cream. And since winter squashes are easy to grow and the vines are prolific, this is a soup that’s popular almost everywhere.

Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: About 1 hour, mostly unattended

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil or butter

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 3 pounds sugar pumpkin or any winter squash like butternut or kabocha, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch cubes

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or rosemary

  • Salt and pepper

  • 5 cups vegetable stock or water

  • 1 cup cream or nondairy milk

GET THE RECIPE