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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Samantha Moore says
I just stick the whole damn squash (or pumpkin) in the oven at +-350F and bake it ’til a knife glides easily through the flesh to the center, then take the squash (pumpkin) out of the oven, wait 5 minutes, THEN cut it in half (it’s w a y softer at that point of course), scrape out the seeds, and scoop out the tasty flesh to use accordingly. Much better than trying to cut a raw squash (pumpkin) in half. Moister, too. And it doesn’t blow up in the oven, as my mother had feared.
Amber Karnes says
Never tried that method! Sounds even better!
About how long does it take at 350 to get the desired result?
Delicata squash is my all-time favorite. They almost taste TOO good. I also like butternut squash soup, made with pureed squash, coconut milk, and cayenne pepper.
Amber Karnes says
Oooh yeah butternut squash is sooooo yummy with some heat 🙂
AndreAnna (Life As A Plate) says
Great post! Squash is my favorite!! I use it almost once a day, literally.
I use it often as a thickener instead of a traditional flour roux. I have a Sweet and Savory Sage Beef Stew that I thicken with pumpkin and a Beef “Schtoup” I thicken with butternut or acorn squash.
I also use spaghetti squash in a ton of recipes, my most favorite being my Spaghetti Squash Meat Pie
I need to try and use more delicata squash; it’s hard to find!
Amber Karnes says
That’s a super idea, to use it as a thickener. And I’ve gotta try that meat pie for sure. Thanks!!
love these ideas, can’t wait to try them all. i’m a newbie to squash having only starting eating it upon reading the Paleo Solution. But I came up with a butternut squash dessert that is a VERY SPECIAL Occasion dessert.
cut butternut squash in half lengthwise (one half per person). roast face up with the water in the bottom of the pan as previously described but in the scooped out hole where the seeds were, put in a couple tabs of good, grass-fed butter and couple tablespoons of real maple syrup. roast as normal but every 10 mins or so spoon some of the syrup/butter over the rest of the squash like you’re basting a ham. when its soft enough to pierce with a fork, take out of the oven and put a small scoop of dairyfree, coconut ice cream in the hole of the squash, sprinkle with cinnamon lightly and your dessert tastes just like freshly baked apple pie. even my non-paleo very skeptical friends love this dessert.
Amber Karnes says
My goodness, that sounds yummy.
I have been trying different squashes recently and have had great success. Well, except with the acorn squash. The taste was anything but sweet…it was bitter tasting. Is it possible the squash I got wasn’t ripe?
How can you tell if a squash is ready for consumption?
Amber Karnes says
Ali, sorry you got a dud! You might have gotten an overly ripe one, actually. From the internets…
“Harvested when fully ripe, the average acorn squash weighs from one to three pounds. Any larger and you risk getting a dry, stringy squash.
It’s difficult to judge an acorn squash by its outward appearance. It should feel heavy for its size with smooth, dull skin and absolutely no soft spots. Shiny skin indicates it was picked before fully mature, unless the producer has applied wax. Look for some partial orange on the skin as a sign of maturity. On the other hand, too much orange coloring on the skin indicates an overripe squash which will be dry and stringy. A good balance between green and orange coloring is optimum. When comparing, be aware that lighter weight ones have lost moisture through the skin and will be drier.”
You forgot kabocha, the best variety of squash!
no joke, kabocha is stupidly delicious. I lived in Japan for five years and the thing is all over. You can actually just slice the raw thing thin and oil the slices and grill them! nice grill marks and you get these crunchy, caramelized slices of pumpkin goodness.
Amber Karnes says
You guys, I have never tried kabocha squash! Gonna get on that asap.
Any idea on how many calories kabocha has? I Ask because I’ve seen vastly different values given for kabocha–some list it similar to the calories of pumpkin or other winter squash, but other values say closer to that of a sweet potato. Did you ever see any data when you were in Japan?
Great post Robb! I literally just made my first Kabocha squash about 3 days ago. It was awesome!
One question, is it possible to overdo squash? I mean can I eat as much as I want?
I’m loving the squash this season…my favorite by far is butternut squash– I like to chop it into chunks, coat with melted coconut oil, salt and cinnamon and bake until soft…delicious!
I have two questions…Is mayo bad and does it make a difference if you make your own so you can control the type of oil in there? And the second is, I’ve heard arrowroot flour is not problematic and can be used to make paleo gravies. Is arrowroot flour in fact free of any problematic lectins/sapponins/etc.? Obviously neither of these items are particularly good for you but maybe neutral?
Robb Wolf says
it can be heavy in n-6, just have to check ingredients. Arrowroot is good to go.
Kevin Costello says
Is arrowroot OK for people with autoimmune/leaky gut issues?
Best to avoid? Or are there no known problems/gut irritants, so OK to tinker with and see how you respond?
Robb Wolf says
I think it’d be fine
I been enjoying squash in the pressure cooker every since Robb made the acorn squash video (with the part of the acorn squash being played by a butternut squash). It cooks up so fast and it is dang tasty.
Adam the last cylon says
Am I correct in thinking that squash is too heavy on the carbs for us “metabolicly challenged” folks?
We need to lose the weight first and then loosen up on the awesome high carb veggies, right?
Word brother, keep up the awesome.
What about all those tasty seeds?
Separate the seeds from the mush and you’ve got the beginnings of a simple snack. Simply toast them in the oven at 350 until crunchy. Usually we coat our squash seeds with olive oil, salt, and chipotle powder before roasting; our oil, salt, cinnamon, and allspice seasoning came out great too. Butternut seeds are our favorites, and pumpkin and acorn are also good. (Haven’t tried this with spaghetti or delicata squash yet, and kabocha seeds usually just end up chewy rather than crunchy.) As a bonus, once they’re separated from the mush, the seeds can stay raw for a while in the fridge until more squash is eaten, allowing for bigger batches.
As for recipes for the actual squash, my husband and I really like butternut soup. Boil butternut and a little apple in chicken stock until soft, blend, and spice to taste – we usually add salt, pepper, cinnamon and hot peppers. Caramelizing some onion in the pot first adds some great flavor too, and cooked sausage bites are a great addition when it’s made. We also like butternut chips; slice thinly and fry in a few inches of (325 degree) olive oil until golden brown.
Kevin Costello says
Is it OK to eat the skin of winter squash?
I’ve been having acorn & butternut squash 2-4x/wk ever since your pressure cooker video episode. I like to keep it simple so just cut into cubes and roast with the meat. The skin gets very tender, so I’ve just been eating the whole cube, skin and all.
Are there any anti-nutrients / gut irritants? I know you recommend avoiding the skins of sweet potatoes, esp for those with autoimmune/leaky gut issues.
Robb Wolf says
I’d suspect the skin of anything like that would have some anti-nutrients. Given your situation, I’d just scoop out the innards.
Kabocha has got to be my favorite. Unlike a lot of other squash it doesn’t need to be peeled (for this option I think organic is the way to go). If you’ve ordered pumpkin curry in a Thai restaurant it’s usually skin-on kabocha.
I dice it up into bean-sized pieces and add it to chili. Or I’ll make Tom Kha Gai soup and poach it for 20 minutes or so. It’s low-moisture so I’ve had to watch it when roasting or grilling. If you overdo it it’s practically inedible.
Steve B. says
I just finished reading The Paleo Solution and have a quick question about Spaghetti Squash. I’m an insanely plain and simple eater. When my diets get to complex I tend to fall off the wagon. I just had spaghetti squash for the first time every and I absolutely love it. Mixed it with red sauce and grass fed ground beef and I have three huge meals that are easy to make and reheat for about $3/meal(and that’s with grass fed meat). Also seems like the perfect substitute for the old rice or pasta roni sides I used to have with chicken. How crazy can I go with this stuff on a # of meals / week basis, before I over do it? (I’m still looking to add as many greens and other veggies as possible into my meals, but the squash as an additional side makes me forget wheat based sides ever existed)