How to Cook Winter Squash

Learn how to cook winter squash. My recent post covered how to identify, select, store, and cut winter squash, this one is all about how to cook winter squash.
how to cook winter squash
Roasted slices, baked spaghetti squash strands, roasted cubes (peeled), puree.
Here are the basic techniques for baking, steaming, boiling and microwaving squash.  These methods will provide whatever you need for a particular recipe, whether it’s roasted or pureed.

Ways to Cook Winter Squash

Oven Baking/Roasting

Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds.
Place cut-side down on a greased baking dish or a pan lined with parchment paper or silicone mat.
Bake at 375°F (190° C) for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until it is tender.
Use a fork to test if it is tender. The rind will be tough, but the flesh should be easy for the fork to penetrate.
Cut Side Up or Down?
Unless you are stuffing or basting your squash with maple syrup, butter, oil or some other seasoning, bake with the cut side down. Contact with the baking sheet will help caramelize the squash. If you are basting it, have the squash facing up.
Water or No Water?
If you grease the pan or use a silicone mat, you do not need to add water. By not adding water, you will get some browning and caramelizing – that roasted flavor. Yes, you will get some baked on brown bits on your pan, making it a little harder to clean.
You can add water to the baking pan.  This will result in steaming the squash. The squash will be moist and tender without browning and the pan will be easier to clean. This method is great if you’re wanting a nice puree. If you find your squash is a little watery, try roasting it without water, cut side up to allow water to evaporate.
Once cool to the touch, remove flesh from rind.  Cube, mash or in the case of spaghetti squash – string.
Butternut squash. It was baked cut side down.
Butternut squash. It was baked cut side down.
Bake it Whole
For the absolute easiest way to cook squash, bake it whole.
Pierce the skin with a sharp knife or fork 5-6 times all around the squash.
Place in oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours at 375°F (190° C).   It takes longer, but eliminates the need to cut through dangerously thick rinds.
Remove the seeds after baking.
Note: This method will steam the flesh inside and may cause slightly more watery squash than when it it is cut and roasted.
Striped pajama spaghetti squash baked whole until fork tender.
Striped pajama spaghetti squash baked whole until fork tender.
Roasted Slices or Cubes
kale, butternut squash and farro salad
To get nice caramelized squash pieces for use on salads like this kale and squash salad or just to have as a side dish, peel the squash before roasting. This is easiest on squashes that are not heavily ribbed – butternut squash, kabocha or banana squash work well. Use a vegetable peeler or a knife to cut off the peel.peeling squash
Once it it peeled cut it into equal sized pieces. Check out my YouTube video on How to Cut, Peel and Cube Butternut Squash.
Coat evenly with oil and spices and scatter on baking sheet. Be sure to leave space between pieces so they can roast rather than just steam.
roasting squash
Place in 350°F oven for 30 to 40 minutes.
roasted squash cubes
Peeling is optional. Some squash, like Delicata and even butternut have tender skins that can be eaten. If this sounds like the way to go for you, simply slice squash into equal sized pieces, coat with oil and spices and lay on baking sheet. Bake at 350°F for 30-40 minutes. Flip over once during baking.

Puree

To get a nice smooth puree, roast, steam, boil or microwave squash until it is very tender. Undercooked squash will not puree as smoothly. While you can turn any cooked squash (except spaghetti squash) into a puree, I like the flavor and texture of butternut, kabocha, hubbard or pie pumpkins and banana squash the best. Buttercup is a little too dry and both pumpkin and acorn are too watery and aren’t as flavorful.

Once the squash is cooked, scoop out the flesh. It should be very tender. You can mash it with a fork, potato masher or ricer. For an even smoother consistency use a blender, food processor or immersion blender.

butternut squash puree

The puree can be used in soups, lattes or steamers, pudding, pie, loaves, scones, fruit leather, smoothies and more. In fact, you can use squash puree instead of apple sauce to replace oil in baking recipes. Just replace up to 1/3 of the oil in a recipe with a puree.

For more details on the process, check out How to Make and Freeze Pumpkin Puree.

Steaming

Cut squash into large pieces, remove seeds and place in steam basket above a pot of boiling water. Cook until tender, about 25 to 35 minutes. Remove flesh from rind and cube or mash.  Butternut squash has a thinner skin than most squash, to steam it, peel and cut squash to desired size before steaming.  HINT: Cut the neck off the butternut squash and stand it upright on a cutting board to make peeling easier.  Scoop out the seeds from the bulb, slice it into disks and then peel.

Boiling

Peel and cut squash into pieces. Cover with water and boil until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Or, boil small squash whole.  Simply place in a pot of boiling water and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until fork tender.

Microwaving

Yes, you can cook winter squash in the microwave! Leave whole or cut squash in half, remove seeds and pierce with fork or knife all around the squash.  Add 2 tablespoons of water to the baking dish and cook for 6 minutes for smaller squash and up to 12 minutes for large squash.  Remove from microwave and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Delicata squash with a bit of water ready for the microwave.
Delicata squash with a bit of water ready for the microwave.

Cooking Winter Squash – Hints

Hint for Undercooked Squash

If you find your squash is too hard, simply return it to the oven or pop it in the microwave for a couple of minutes until it’s finished to your liking.

Hint for Over cooked Squash

You’ll know your squash is overcooked if it ends up too soft and mushy.  While it may not be ideal for your original recipe, it’ll make great puree or soup.   Use squash puree in place of pumpkin puree in many different baking recipes.

Substituting Winter Squash

Most squash are easily substituted, so if you don’t have access to one kind, try whatever is handy.  Acorn, butternut, buttercup, delicata and kabocha are fairly similar and can be use interchangeably.   Delicata and kabocha are most like sweet potato and can be used in recipes calling for sweet potatoes.  Spaghetti squash has a very unique stringy texture that makes the most wonderful, delicious and nutritious substitute for spaghetti noodles. Read Four Ways to Cook Spaghetti Squash for more details on this squash.
Have fun experimenting and check out some of these other great squash posts.
Sign up to get articles by Getty delivered to your inbox. You’ll get recipes, practical tips and great food information like this. Getty is a Professional Home Economist,  speaker and writer putting good food on tables and agendas.  She is the author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, a mom and veggie gardener.

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