Eating seasonally is not only good for the environment, it’s also the best way to get the freshest, tastiest produce that the earth has to offer. Visit any farmers market in the late fall and early winter and you will see several different kinds of winter squashes on display. They come in all shapes and colors, have a hard skin and keep well for months if stored in a cool, dry place. Winter squashes are a delicious way to get vitamins, beta-carotenes and tons of fiber into your belly. So let’s talk winter squash.
Winter squashes can seem a little daunting because of their size and their hard skins. What is in there anyway? They are totally easy to prepare, though. Ready for this?
How to cook any winter squash: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the squash in half. Scrape out the seeds. Place the squash cut side up in a baking dish with about an inch of water. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until a fork easily pierces through the whole squash. Let cool fully before handling, these suckers get HOT.
If you don’t have a sharp knife, there’s another way you can handle this. The microwave. Make sure you stab and poke plenty of holes into the squash before you stick it in the microwave (otherwise it will most certainly explode). Most squashes will be done cooking in about 10 minutes, you want a fork to easily pierce through the flesh. Here’s the disclaimer though – NEVER (ever ever ever) leave the kitchen. If your squash starts squeaking, whistling, or making weird noises that is a sure indicator that too much steam is building up inside and a KABOOM is inevitable. Pause the microwave for a while (maybe even poke more holes in it) and then restart.
Let’s look at five winter squashes that are readily available at most farmers markets and grocery stores. Ready?
Acorn squash is shaped like (surprise!) an acorn, with distinctive ridges along its sides and a beautiful deep green color. The flesh inside is sweet and orange in color. Acorn squashes are perfect for stuffing with other yummy ingredients, although they’re absolutely awesome just cooked and mashed with grass-fed butter or coconut oil and some cinnamon and nutmeg. I’ve gotten rave reviews for this Stuffed Acorn Squash recipe, but you should try filling them with whatever you like.
Delicata squash is a cheerful-looking yellow squash with long green stripes and yellow-orange flesh. This squash doesn’t store as well as the other winter squashes because of its’ thin skin, however, the skin itself is edible right along with the squash when you cook it up. Bonus! No need to peel these. Why not try a delicata in this yummy squash salad recipe with kale and pine nuts. Sounds delicious.
Spaghetti squash really is all about the unique texture. This squash is a pale yellow color, about the size of a football or a little smaller, and when finished cooking, the yellow flesh pulls apart into thick, slightly crisp, spaghetti-like strands. Just tease it out with a fork. I like to use half a spaghetti squash as a bowl and mix in olive oil, salt & pepper right into the “bowl” and stir it around. YUM. However, if you’re looking for something a little more well-rounded, make this spaghetti squash with sauce along with some primal meatballs and you will impress even the harshest Paleo skeptics.
There are dozens of varieties of pumpkins out there, and while everyone’s hacked one apart for a jack-o-lantern, made a pumpkin pie or maybe even Paleo pumpkin pancakes, have you ever tried pumpkin in a savory application? This pumpkin soup with sausage is absolutely awesome. Bonus points if you actually serve the soup inside the pumpkin – it makes its own little tureen!
Butternut squash, my favorite! These uniquely shaped squashes have a relatively thin skin, making them easy to peel and seed. If you’re lazy (like I sometimes am) you can even cube up the squash and roast it with the skin on. It won’t hurt ya. These squashes are wonderfully sweet and I’ve made everything from a “pasta” sauce (which I serve over meatballs) to green curry. It might go without saying, but they are amazing just roasted with some olive oil, salt & pepper, or coconut oil, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Recipe: Cream of Butternut Squash with Granny Smith Apples & Crispy Pancetta
by Phil McKeon, Executive Chef of 219 An American Bistro
I grabbed some lunch at a great local bistro a few weeks ago with some friends, and ordered this delicious sounding soup. It was *awesome* and could easily be made into a Paleo masterpiece. My friend Phil is the executive chef at that restaurant and was generous enough to share his recipe with us. Make this soup and you will not be disappointed. If you are completely dairy-free you can change out the heavy cream for coconut milk, but it will change the flavor a bit. Try this soup and let us know what you think! It is so comforting on a cold winter’s day.
1/2 cup oil, separated
1 cup diced pancetta or applewood smoked bacon
6 cups diced butternut squash
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced yellow onion
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground clove
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 cups granny smith apples
4 cups apple juice
- In one pot, on medium heat, add 1/4 cup of oil, plus squash, carrot and onion. Cook until soft, stirring occasionally. Add bay leaf, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and cream.
- Cook until hot and you can poke a toothpick all the way through the butternut squash with ease. Pour the soup into a blender (carefully!) or blend with a stick blender until smooth.
- Salt & pepper to taste, and add some apple juice to thin it out if it’s not to your liking.
- In another pot on low heat, add diced apples and apple juice and stir. Cook until apples are soft.
- In a frying pan, on medium heat, add 1/4 cup of oil and the pancetta or bacon and cook till it’s crispy. Remove from heat and separate the pancetta from the grease.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove the apples from the pot and add some to a bowl. Pour the butternut bisque over the apples, then garnish it with a little of the crispy pancetta and some freshly chopped parsley.
What are your favorite ways to use winter squash? Any foolproof recipes you’d like to share? Have trouble with a certain squash? Tell us all about it in the comments!
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