Squash is one of the most healthful vegetables that will come out of your garden each year (and if your garden is anything like mine, it is probably one of the most prolific veggies as well!). Especially of note are the winter squashes like butternut, acorn, Hubbard, and spaghetti, as they are chock full of vitamins, nutrients, minerals, and fiber. They are great in the winter too, as their name suggests, because they store well for several months under the right conditions. When your summer harvest has come to an end, you can reach for the squash in your cellar for a fresh meal.
Squash is also great because it is so versatile. You can roast it, bake it, microwave it, steam it, fry it, and boil it. You can put squash into salads, soups, stir fries, and pasta dishes or make it the center piece of a meal with large chunks of roasted squash or halves of baked squash stuffed with a delicious grain salad. Here are some ideas to get you started, but use your imagination. The possibilities are nearly endless.
Roast it. Roasting is one of the best ways to cook nearly any vegetable because the high heat in the oven really brings out the maximum amount of flavor. Any of your winter squashes will do very well roasted, while summer squash and zucchini are a little delicate for the technique. You can roast them as well, but watch them carefully to be sure you don’t end up with a pile of mush. Peel, remove the seeds, and chop your squash to prep it for the oven. Toss the pieces in oil and seasonings then spread them out on a baking sheet. Using enough oil is essential to keep the squash from sticking. You can also use parchment paper to line the baking sheet, which makes clean up much quicker. Cook the squash at 450 degrees for anywhere between twenty and forty minutes, depending on the size of your pieces. Turn them with a spatula once or twice while roasting and check with a fork for doneness. For summer squash, slice thickly to roast.
Boil and mash. Replace your plain mashed potatoes with mashed squash. Peel, seed, and chop your favorite winter squash. Boil the pieces as you would potatoes and check when they are done by piercing with a fork. When they are ready, drain the water and mash the squash with a potato masher. Add butter, salt and pepper, and any other seasonings you like until it tastes just right.
Steam/bake. You can cook your winter squashes using this method for a variety of purposes. You can use it for mashing or for eating right out of the skin. You can also use this method for adding squash to baked goods or stuffed pastas. It is also a good method for making purees and baby food with your squash. Cut the squash in half and place each half, cut side down in a baking dish with enough water to cover about a half inch of squash. Cover the dish with foil and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour for large specimens and forty-five minutes for smaller ones. When it is done, let the squash cool and then remove the seeds. Scoop out the cooked squash from its skin and use in any way you like.
Sauté. Sautéing is a wonderful and easy way to cook your summer squash varieties. Try this with yellow summer squash, zucchini, patty pan, and crooknecks. For most summer squash, you need only wash it. Peeling and removing seeds is usually not necessary. Cut them into slices that are about one quarter of an inch thick. You can use whole slices or cut them into halves or quarters. The smaller the pieces are, the less time you will need to cook them. Heat oil in a pan on medium heat and then add the squash pieces. Cook until they are tender, but not mushy. Seasoning can be as simple as salt and pepper, but summer squash is also great with fresh chopped herbs like thyme, sage, tarragon, or parsley.
Puree in soup. Pureed squash soup is delightful and flavorful and also not as difficult to make as you might think. Boil chucks of peeled and chopped winter squash in a pot of broth. Also add any other ingredients you think will make your soup tasty. Garlic, onions, or shallots are a good choice, as is cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and other similar spices. For a summer recipe, use fresh herbs rather than spices to flavor the soup. When the ingredients have boiled long enough to make the squash chunks tender, puree the mixture in a food processor or blender or with a handheld processer directly in the pot. Flavor with salt and pepper to taste and serve with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt.
Stuff and bake. Winter squashes are just the right shapes and consistency for stuffing with tasty ingredients. Acorn squash works particularly well. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Roast the halves, cut side up on a baking sheet at 450 degrees until the squash is just barely tender. Add a stuffing and cover the halves with foil. Put back in the oven and roast until the stuffing is heated through. For a stuffing, any type of grain salad works well. For example, brown rice mixed with raisins and walnuts and raspberry vinaigrette is delicious, as is couscous with cucumbers, tomatoes, and feta cheese with olive oil and lemon juice.
Bake as fries. Forget potatoes—for great French fries, try squash. And don’t fry them either, as baking is much more healthful. Peel your winter squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into French fry-sized strips. Toss the strips in oil and roast on a baking sheet at 450 degrees for about fifteen to twenty minutes or until tender. In addition to oil, you can season the fries any way you like. Just salt and pepper is tasty, but try parmesan and garlic powder or chili powder and cumin for something different.
Steam. If you are conscious of using too many fats in your cooking, you can steam your squash on the stovetop. Just use a pot with a small amount of water and your steamer to cook summer or winter squash. Summer squashes will only need a few minutes in the steamer, while winter squash will take longer. For winter squash, peel and dice into small pieces before steaming. A great use for steamed chunks of squash is as a substitute or addition to a potato salad.
Microwave for spaghetti. Spaghetti squash is a boon to parents whose kids whine about eating their vegetables. Just replace pasta with the strings from a spaghetti squash, add tomato sauce and meatballs, and you have a great meal that your kids will love. It’s also easy to make. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Place one half, cut side up, in a microwave-safe dish. Add about a half a cup of water to the inside of the squash and place the other half, cut side down, on top of it. If the result is too unstable, cut a thin slice of skin from the bottom of the bottom half so that it lies flat. Cook the squash and water in the microwave on high for about ten minutes. To test for doneness, feel the top of the squash, and if it is flexible, it is done. (Do this with an oven mitt because it will be hot!) Also be very careful about letting the kids help with this. The microwave and squash will be very steamy and very hot at the end of ten minutes. Once the squash has cooled enough to handle, pull out the strings with a fork and you have spaghetti.
Boil for pasta sauce. You can also use pasta and turn your squash into a sauce to try something different from the usual spaghetti sauce. Boil small chunks of winter squash in broth or water until they are tender. Puree the broth and squash and add a little milk to thin it and make it creamier. Season with fresh herbs, salt, and pepper and serve over freshly cooked pasta.