Squash is the answer to all your problems
November 8th, 2011
02:00 PM ET
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How fantastic are fall and winter squash? They're packed to the gills with antioxidants, dietary fiber, Vitamin A and carotenes, fill you up for just a few calories, and can be prepared in approximately seventy billion ways, from sweet to savory. Plus they're in season right this very second, generally cheap as the dickens, and add glorious color and fabulous flavor to your holiday feasts.

But how do you tackle the beast? Butternut squash can be unwieldy to butcher, some varieties like turban, hubbard and kabocha look all gnarled and knobbly and scary, and how the heck do you cook them?

Let's quash all those worries right this second, starting with selection.

Buying and storing

Don't try it 'til you've knocked it. A prime candidate will feel heavy and firm, with no visible nicks or soft spots. A fully grown squash will have slightly matte skin, rather than glossy; the flesh will be a bit sweeter. Look for deep, rich color on the exterior and a dry, rounded stem still attached, if possible.

A winter squash will keep from one to three months if it's stored in a cool, dark place (and not near apples which will cause accelerated decay), but if you know you'll be consuming it sooner, a brightly-colored or curiously shaped squash can make a fabulous table decoration.


Butternut squash presents a particular challenge because of its oblong shape. To halve it, slice off the top and the bottom so it sits flat on a secured cutting board. Rest it on the widest end, and using a heavy knife, slice down vertically. If you face resistance, use a mallet – ideally rubber – to tap gently on the tops of both sides of the blade. Work as slowly as you need to.

For more spherical squash, depending on the variety and how you're going to cook it, you can either cut a circle around the stem, angling inward with a paring knife and scooping out the seeds, cut the top off like a lid, or cut in half along the meridian or equator. Many winter squash have very thick skins and flesh, so again, use a sharp, heavy knife and take your time to avoid accidents.

In any case, you'll need to scoop out the seeds and guts as cleanly as you can, using the edge of a spoon. For an extra treat, rinse the seeds clean in a colander, shake them dry and discard the guts. Then spread the seeds on a sheet pan, spray or drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and roast in a 300° oven for 10-20 minutes or until golden brown. Keep an eye on them so they don't burn, and once they've cooled, eat them as-is or sprinkle with paprika, cumin or your favorite spices.

To peel or not to peel?

Peeling squash is, frankly, a pain, but for some preparations, it's key. If you're going to be roasting cubes of squash, nothing beats the caramelized flavor of browned, irregular edges. So take the time to smooth down knobs and delve into divots with a vegetable peeler or cheese slicer while the squash is still whole.

If you're going to be working with the squash in a method that's less texture-dependent, leave the skin on and bake the squash, halved at 300°, with the cut side down until it's soft enough to peel off. Pouring boiling water over squash in a baking dish also aids removal.

Plenty of squash varieties have perfectly edible and delicious skins that actually add extra flavor and texture, while some are simply too thick to be pleasant. Roast it up, take a nibble, see what you think, and either scoop or savor.

Cooking methods

There's really no wrong way to cook a squash, making it one of the versatile vegetables around. They're great grilled, pureed, steamed, broiled, boiled, baked, fried, mashed and more. Here are a few of our favorite preparations to grace a holiday table.

Halved, roasted squash on the savory side
This works especially well with butternut and delicata squash.

1. Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.

2. On a cutting board, carefully cut the squash in half. Make sure to trim off any hard stem parts and scrape out innards.

3. Prick the flesh with a fork, brush or spray all surfaces lightly with oil, sprinkle the cut side with a little salt and place face-down on a cookie sheet.

4. Roast for 40-50 minutes until you can easily pierce the squash with a fork.

5. Once it's cook enough to handle, peel off the skin, then chop, cube, mash, stuff or leave whole and serve.

It's smashing with a little bit of melted butter, Kosher salt, and coriander or paprika. Add grated Parmesan if you're feeling especially wacky, or stuff with your favorite rice pilaf or seasoned breadcrumbs. Spherical, thick-skinned varieties like acorn or hubbard can be used as bowls for your favorite cream soup.

Halved, roasted squash on the sweet side
This is aces for smaller acorn or sweet dumpling squash as well as sweet pumpkins and makes a dramatic, stand alone serving vessel.

1. Pre-heat oven to 400°F

2. Slice acorn squash in half vertically and scoop out the seeds. Score the insides of the squash a few times on each side and brush with melted butter. Sprinkle some brown sugar and a pinch of salt on the cut sides, along with a drizzle of maple syrup if you'd like it a bit sweeter.

3. Place the halves, cut side up in a baking dish with 1/4 cup of water at the bottom of it. Bake for 1 hour, then check for tenderness; the flesh should be quite soft and the tops browned. Check again at 10 minute intervals until they reach desired doneness.

4. Let the halves cool slightly and serve as-is, cut-side up, with a fork to scoop out the deliciousness.

Cubed or sliced roasted squash
This is simply divine with pumpkin, turban, butternut, speckled pup or kabotcha varieties.

1. Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.

2. Peel the squash using a vegetable peeler. For stubborn spots, stabilize the squash on a cutting board and carefully remove with a paring knife.

3. Cut the squash into 1" thick rounds, remove guts and seeds with a spoon, and then slice into even thickness or stack slices to cut into cubes evenly.

4. Brush or spray cubes or slices with oil, or toss in a bag with oil to evenly coat all sides.

5. Place slices or cubes on a cookie sheet, sprinkle lightly with salt and roast 20-25 minutes until fork-tender and the edges are brown, then serve immediately.

To really punch up the flavor, finely chop rosemary or your other favorite herbs and sprinkle them over the squash before cooking. It's also a divine topping for pizzas or flatbreads, atop salad greens with goat cheese, or stuffed into a sandwich with leftover turkey.

Mashed or pureed squash
1. Follow the instructions for Halved, roasted squash on the savory side.

2. When the squash is cool enough to peel, simply place the flesh it in a bowl, mash it with butter and salt and serve.

It's also delicious mashed with maple syrup, orange juice, smoked paprika, salt and butter to taste, or pureed with a standard or immersion blender (make sure it's cooled first!) with milk, butter and a little bit of ginger.

Did that quash your squash quandaries or got more? Hit us up in the comments below and we'll do our best to help. By the way - that's a peeled speckled pup squash in the picture above in case you were wondering.

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Quick, simple vegetable sides

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Filed under: Cooking • Fall Vegetables • How To • Make • Recipes • Squash • Techniques & Tips • Vegetables

soundoff (75 Responses)
  1. BeenThereAteThat

    Great post! I've also found that a kids' pumpkin-carving knife is a great way to cut open a large butternut squash with a lot less effort than using a regular knife.

    November 7, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
  2. Mark

    This article gave me just the right info that I was seeking, to cook a small cubed squash. An informative article, without a lot of fancy culinary jive. Thanks!

    November 6, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
  3. stephen48739

    I am very thankful to my mother, for feeding me mashed-up veggies, from Gerber baby food jars 55 years ago. I acquired a taste for squash and love it to this day.

    October 2, 2013 at 1:02 am |
  4. Julie

    Don't forget the fabulous spaghetti squash. After roasting, just take a fork and scrape out all the flesh...even if you are a little rough, it comes out in perfect spaghetti-sized strings. Use in place of noodles for a great healthy alternative.

    September 25, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  5. KieranH

    Yuck, nasty squash. Mushy, seedy mess.

    September 25, 2013 at 7:28 am |
    • SixDegrees

      Uh – that's not the part most people eat.

      September 26, 2013 at 8:36 am |
  6. The enlightened restauranteer

    "Place the halves, cut side up in a baking dish with 1/4 cup of water at the bottom of it." Along with a small seasoned pork chop. Wrap it all in aluminum foil. Forget the water. It's not needed now.

    September 24, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
  7. Cynthia

    Save a lot of time and energy: halve the squash, any kind, unpeeled. seed, and put upside down in a microwavable pan with may be a 1/4 inch of water. Microwave till it feels softish on the peel. Saves lots of energy!

    September 24, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      Well, it saves a fair amount of time, if your microwave is big enough to accommodate a squash. Not sure it actually saves energy, though; the microwave is drawing at full power the entire time it's on, while your own stops drawing power once it reaches the set temperature, and good insulation keeps it from cycling very much at all during the cooking time.

      It'd make for an interesting comparison, but it wouldn't surprise me to find that a conventional oven is more energy efficient than a microwave for many items.

      September 26, 2013 at 8:39 am |
  8. schuyler's mom

    I love giant Hubbard squash – both the orange and green varieties. They tip the scale at 50+ pounds each. To prepare them to eat or freeze, I drop them on the sidewalk. They break neatly into 3-4 pieces exactly right for the oven.

    September 24, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  9. carol

    When my chidren were young, I served acorn squash quarted w/ brn sugar and bacon as side dish...they loved it.
    Now I just eat it halved w/ pepper....

    November 17, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  10. jj

    Another ridiculous title – the answer to ALL your problems? Come on now.

    November 16, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Geez

      Literal much?

      September 24, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • Marc Ellis

      And you had something to say?

      September 25, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
  11. Amayda

    Squash is awesome! I can't grow enough of it to last me the winter. Especially since half my family is hereditarily diabetic/reactive hypoglycemic (we are all of healthy weight). We get the sweet taste and texture with far fewer carbs than sweet potatoes.

    November 16, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  12. erich2112x

    I'm not eating that. I hate squash, Even squash disguised to taste good is disgusting.

    November 11, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • Curteo

      Spaghetti squash has always been a favorite of mine. Squash varieties are very flexible in how to cook them. It's very hard to mess up squash cooking!

      November 13, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Cindy

      Guess you don't like pumpkin pie then. Pumpkin is a squash.... yum. I'll take your piece of the pie. Thanks.

      November 13, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  13. Dan

    The easiest way I have found to make good squash is to tell the wife to get in the kitchen and make it.

    November 10, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • Jeff

      In my house, that would be the easiest way to end up wearing squash.

      September 24, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
  14. tferranto

    If you're making a squash soup, rinse the seeds free of pulp, put in blender with about a a cup or so of water.
    Blend vigorously, strain and add the seed milk to the soup. You get the nutty flavor and the great vitamins.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  15. Ejisme

    Acorn squash cooks great on the BBQ. Cut in half, scoop out, add a little butter and brown sugar, wrap in foil and place on the grill for about 45 minutes, which is about the right time for a baked potato wrapped in foil too. With about 10 minutes left, put the steaks on and you have a fabulous meal!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Dean

      Crush up some walnuts or pecans and mix them in with the butter and brown sugar.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • horseyak

      Yum. Thanks.

      November 11, 2011 at 2:07 am |
  16. jdog

    man you completely missed the soup aspect of the squash – dude pears & apples with squash then puree – add a wee bit of cream and you are in heaven!!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  17. zoid

    just cook it already and eat it

    November 10, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  18. The_Mick

    Butternut squash is one of those veggies where the peeler with the peeling blade aligned at right angles to the handle (shaped like a Y with the blade connecting the two top points of the Y) works best. I don't like the pureed butternut squash dishes or baking unpeeled halves (some people put peas and margarine in the seed hole), but after the agony of peeling and cutting the squash into one inch cubes, I love the result of sauteing, baking, or adding to soups like Martha Stewart's Savory Fall Stew (recipe is easily googled). Note that if you want to spend more, you can often buy butternut squash already cut like that.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:30 am |
  19. MannyHM

    I just experimented with adding pieces of squash with the rice I cooked for the first time. I liked it ! With it, I added onion and garlic with my rice. It's effortless.

    November 9, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  20. whatwhat

    buttercup is the money squash.

    November 9, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  21. Melissa

    Alternative to baking acorn squash to prepare it for peeling: I submerge it in a pot of water and boil it for a few minutes (saves energy). For a filling, I mix brown sugar, butter, karo syrup, salt and cinnamon, bring it to a boil on the stove first and taste it before filling the squash and baking it. Another method to cook some kinds of squash is to salt + pepper rounds of it, dust in flour, and fry it.

    November 9, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  22. palintwit

    Twit test. This is only a test.

    November 9, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  23. batgirl

    Peel a seeded butternut squash, Roughly cut like french fries, sort of thickly. Sprinkle with salt, drizzle with a little oil. Roast at 450 for about 20 minutes. Yum! Better than sweet potatoes oven "fries"!

    November 9, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  24. Marie

    Just made a thai-style butternut squash soup the other day... saute the raw squash (cubed small) with onion, add curry spices to taste, then add chicken (or veggie) broth and coconut milk. Takes 15 min and is amazing! I made it smoother by blending half of it and adding it back to the pot, but the texture of the chopped squash was important too.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  25. nyniane

    Microwaving butternut squash (pierce the skin first) for just a few minutes makes it a lot easier to cut. Then you can finish in the oven for that roasted flavor.

    November 9, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  26. Shawn

    CNN you could have found a better pic. I almost thought there was a frog sitting in the middle of a plant.

    November 8, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Nik

      I laughed so hard after reading your comment. Thanks! :D

      November 8, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • BS

      Ha! I didn't see the frog, but I had already read the title and knew it was a squash. The stem really does look suspiciously like a frog.

      November 8, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • HarryAzinballs

      I thought it was a turd

      November 9, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • HarryAzinballs

      I'm glad Im not the only one. I thought it was a turd.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • zoid

      I usually just cook mine and eat it.

      November 10, 2011 at 8:32 am |
    • Flea

      LOL Shawn!!! I too thought it was a frog!! Now I also see a turd!!!

      November 10, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  27. Gardener

    I like squash cut in half and and filled with butter, brown sugar, onions, and halved cranberries.

    November 8, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  28. PhatNana

    I NEVER liked any kind of squash. My daugher makes a big pot every once in a while and NOW I LOVE IT!! She just cooks hamb meat (I've tried using cubed pork), adds the squash (cubed), adds 2 cans of mixed veggies, and extra can of corn and an extra can of green beans. She then adds chopped green chili. Simmer for 30 min and you have a wonderful soup... (we add cheese to our bowl)... mm mm mm

    November 8, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  29. Zaggernaut

    I'm 60 and tried butternut squash for the first time a couple of years ago. It always looked like an alien invader on the produce shelves to me. But eventually I bought one and baked it in an oven and treated it like casseroled sweet potatoes and fell in love with it: Cinnamon, brown sugar, butter. That's it. Shortly thereafter I learned what should have been obvious anyway, that it's a carbohydrate. Of course nothing that that tastes that good can be anything but a carbohydrate. I still sneak one in occasionally. Love 'em.

    November 8, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  30. neepsandtats

    Yum, yum & yum.

    November 8, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  31. Fiona

    Wow. I just posted a recipe and got a message that my comment is awaiting moderation. Amazing.

    November 8, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      The moderation software is finicky sometimes! Will go in and look.

      November 8, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  32. Barb

    I have found that many bigger hard squash can be cooked whole. No need to cut and scoop until after when it is a cinch to do so. Just place the whole squash into an oven at 350 or so and most will roast in an hour or less. This is especially good for squash you intend to mash or puree. Makes home-made pumpkin pie a cinch.

    November 8, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  33. Fiona

    I am particularly fond of butternut squash, which doesn't have that sometimes cloyingly sweet taste many winter squashes have. One of my favorite ways to have it is in calabasitas, a preparation of small- diced zucchini and butternut squash sautéed and then braised with onion, garlic and jalapeño and cumin seeds. I add black beans and sometimes corn. it's great as a side dish or wrapped up in a large tortilla and topped with cream or sour cream and a tart tomatillo salsa. I've added tofu to it for extra protein, and it was delicious.

    November 8, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  34. eileen

    I learned this trick for cutting acorn squash from Donna Erickson – Pierce the squash in several places with the tip of a knife and put it in the microwave for 2-3 minutes or more to soften it a bit. Let it rest for a few minutes and slice.

    November 8, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  35. Squash is more than a game

    "... and scoop out the seeds." But DON'T throw them away. Wash the seeds and drizzle with olive oil. Spread on aluminum foil, sprinkle with sea salt and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. Good good. Acorn squash is great with 1/2 pat of butter, 1 teaspoon of brown sugar and 1/2 boneless pork chop stuffed into the cavity. Wrap in aluminum foil and bake.

    November 8, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • ala-kat

      I've been making it exactly that way for many years. Awesome and simple.

      November 9, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  36. P.J.

    Ever hear of microwaving? Ready in 5 minutes per half.

    November 8, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      That makes it hot quickly, for sure and for a regular meal it's great. For a holiday feast, I like to draw out more flavor with roasting and baking.

      (And I don't actually have a microwave, sadly.)

      November 8, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  37. Ann

    Winter squash tastes awesome with curry spices (curry powder, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, etc.) no matter what manner of prep you use.

    November 8, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  38. BS

    I like growing them as well. Some will last for months on the shelf, or you can roast and freeze them. They're great in soups (pureed).

    November 8, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  39. Ben

    Great article, I cook squash frequently. One thing though, squashes are fruits, not vegetables.

    November 8, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • BS

      Culinarily speaking, it's a vegetable. Botanically, most vegetables are fruits, but this isn't botany class.

      November 8, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  40. Sue

    I grew several of those warty pinkish/orange French squash this year and even those that had to be harvested a little early due to frost are divine, simply halved and roasted . Anxious to try cubing a smaller one and roasting it that way, it sounds delicious. Winter squash have become my favorite crop and I hope to grow more variaties next season.

    November 8, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  41. Aubrie

    I like to stuff with sweet Italian sausage, onions and bread crumbs.

    November 8, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • squahs

      I like spaghetti squash a lot

      November 8, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  42. Laura

    Squash is one of my favorite veggies. I prefer acorn or plain yellow squash. Yum! Great article.

    November 8, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  43. Grothnar, Troll King

    First!!! I claim this spot for trolls, troglodytes, and mongoloids everywhere! UNITE!!! United us, Unite the clans!!

    November 8, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Dancer

      Firsties on a squash advice column. Amazing accomplishment.

      November 8, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
      • Jerv

        I thought it was funny!

        November 10, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
        • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

          I particularly like the name Grothnar

          November 15, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
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