Smile Politely

The Charms of Winter Squash

For the past several weeks, I’ve been stocking up on winter squash. Not only do squash make a charming centerpiece, but they are incredibly versatile in the kitchen.

So far this season, I’ve picked up a handful of varieties: acorn, festival, butternut, buttercup and pumpkin. Winter squash not only vary in name, but also in color, texture and sweetness — and everyone seems to have a personal favorite.

For me, it’s butternut. The flesh of the butternut squash is always super sweet, meaty and apt to turn velvety when cooked.

Whatever your pleasure, your winter squash will keep for several months in a cool place, and they’ll be waiting for you when you need an easy meal or a tasty side dish. The biggest challenge often comes when you try to cut the squash open. You really do need a big chef’s knife to get the job done. Sometimes, with especially large squash, I’ll forgo the knife altogether; instead, I simply spread some newspaper on the outside deck and just drop the squash to the ground to get at its insides. Another — perhaps more reasonable — alternative is to puncture the squash in several places and bake it until the skin softens up enough to cut the fruit in half.

Squash is usually hard to peel, so I find it easiest to bake it first, then scoop out the soft interior. First, cut the squash in half, scrape out the seeds and stringy bits, drizzle the remaining fruit with a little olive oil, and place it cut-side down in a baking dish or sheet pan. Cook the squash at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the fruit’s size. At this point you can eat the squash straight away with some butter, salt and pepper, or you can scoop out the squash for other recipes. Squash makes a great filling for raviolis, empanadas or quesadillas — or just about anything else, if you have a little imagination. A quick search on yields over a hundred recipes. And due to its high water content, squash puree freezes quite well, which means you can save it for future pies, breads or soups.

P.S.: Don’t waste the seeds. They make a great snack. Here’s how you do it:

Roasted Squash Seeds

Seeds from a one-pound squash, fibers removed and rinsed
1 tablespoon canola oil
½ teaspoon chili powder
Kosher salt to taste

Right after removing the seeds from the squash, wash the seeds well, removing as much of the squash fibers as possible. It’s important to get the seeds as clean as possible. Drain and let the seeds dry completely on paper towels. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat the seeds with the oil, toss with chili powder and roast for 15–20 minutes, stirring every five minutes until the seeds are a nice golden brown. Salt liberally.

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