Halloween has passed, as has the time of the on-sale pumpkin—something that’s so useful for pies and Jack-o’lanterns and…uh, what else can it be used for, again? Oh, the seeds!
But it’s so much easier to buy the pumpkin and cans and the seeds in packages. Why even bother getting a whole pumpkin?
Why bother getting a whole squash, for that matter? They’re so much work to chop up or stab and then bake or fry or stick in the slow cooker or…whatever. And then you have to pull it apart to use it?
Really, winter squashes (like pumpkin, spaghetti, acorn, butternut—anything with a woodsy stem) seem like a lot of work for little reward. How was this a staple for the Native Americans in the northeast? At least the summer squashes, you can eat the whole thing…
The secret? You can eat the whole winter squash, too.
In fact, the parts commonly thrown out—the skin and the pulp—have a lot of the nutrients and flavor. All you really have to take off are the woodsy part, at the stem. You don’t even have to remove the skin (though it’s usually a lot easier to eat if you do).
But even if so much of squash is edible, it takes so much effort to cook, right? You have to somehow chop or stab it, figure out how to get the peel off and gut it and…
Hold up. Why are you doing all that now?
Winter squash are designed to store nutrients and seeds through cold winter months. Of course they’re gonna be a pain to deal with while raw. So don’t deal with them raw.
If you’re wondering what I mean, here’s the easy, efficient, hands-off way to cook a squash:
What you need:
- 1 winter squash (acorn, butternut, pumpkin, spaghetti, etc.)
- 1 cookie sheet, tray, or pan to hold the squash
- 1 oven
- optional: oven-safe pan full of water (recommended if you want to eat the skin)
Check the racks in the oven to make sure they’re set so you have room for the squash you’re about to cook.
Set your oven to about 300°F/150°C.
Take any stickers off the squash. If you plan to eat the skin (which isn’t the easiest to consume, but it is edible), scrub it.
Stick the squash on whatever you found that it fits on. Stick it (and the water dish, if you’re doing that) in the oven and walk away.
If you do the water dish, you’ll want to check on it every half-hour or so to make sure it doesn’t go dry. Beyond that, you can test the squash by poking it, though how long it’ll need depends very much on the size of your squash. Smaller squashes do tend to have more flavor, but sometimes you need or want (or just plain have) the bigger ones.
Once you can smell it (or after an hour, whichever comes first), check the squash by poking it. If the fork or toothpick doesn’t go in without any resistance beyond the skin, it’s not done.
If you plan to split up the innards and store them, you can pull it out when it’s still on the firm side, with some resistance. That way any further cooking done when you use them will be finishing it rather than overcooking.
Tip for seed removal: Press the pulp through your fingers, like a baby with a banana. You’re way more coordinated than a baby and it’ll get the seeds out faster, including the ones that like to hide. I wear vinyl gloves when I do it.
Objections to this method:
But–but–but…it’ll explode in my oven!
No, it won’t.
Exploding squash happen when you bake it too fast, because the innards and outards are cooking unevenly. That’s why we use a lower temperature.
But–but–but…what on earth do I do with it?
Taste it, see what flavors you think would complement it, and decide from there.
Oh, you want ideas how I use it?
Well, butternut squash purée makes a decent alternative to tomato sauce and paste. (I’m allergic to tomatoes and can’t eat them at all. [sobs])
I recently peeled spaghetti squash and stuck the whole thing in teriyaki, with onions and mushrooms and lotsa ginger. The squash, pulp, and seeds weren’t the usual texture for stir-fry, but the taste was pretty good.
What about them? They’re nutritious and good for you. (Okay, unless you have certain digestive issues.) You can just include them in whatever you’re cooking for some nutritious crunch, pull them out and dehydrate them with salt or seasoning like pumpkin seeds, or whatever.
But–but–but…isn’t this kinda strange?
’Strange’ is in the eye of the beholder. Will the flavor and texture differ from what you’re used to in our era of prepackaged and premade foods? Sure, but how much of that’s due to differing ingredients and preservatives?
Then peel it, scoop the pulp and seeds from the flesh, and use a food processor or a blender to purée the flesh. Dehydrate the seeds, and purée the pulp separately. Use the pulp to add extra flavor and nutrition to some muffin mix or something.
Really, unless you don't have an oven or have allergies, there's not really an excuse for not at least trying the various varieties of squash. (And there are more!) Even hating pumpkin pie isn't much of an excuse; the regular store-bought ones are pretty ugh even if you like pumpkin. Maybe especially if you like pumpkin, since they taste like the pumpkin was harvested at the wrong time.