by Jenn Krasilovsky and Andrea Gudeon
Pumpkins — whether baked in a pie, flavoring a latte, or perched on your front porch on the last night of October — are a popular sign of the season. But this versatile fall vegetable should also have a starring role on your dinner plate.
Many of the hundreds of varieties of pumpkin and winter squash — from popular types like butternut and acorn, to lesser-known ones like honey nut and Long Island cheese — can be found at our neighborhood farmers markets. And once you get home, it just takes a little bit of time to cut them up and roast them (check out the tips below for making the prep simple) to have a multitude of options for easy meals the rest of the week.
There are myriad ways to prepare squash: roasted, pureed into a soup, halved and stuffed, smashed as an alternative to mashed potatoes, in a curry, or, of course, pie! (Though believe it or not, to make the best pumpkin pie, don’t fill it with pumpkin — use butternut squash instead. It has the deepest, richest and sweetest flavor without being too watery.)
If you have some free time over the weekend, roast a batch of winter squash to have on hand for the rest of the week. Here are some ideas for turning your prepared squash into a quick and easy lunch/dinner:
- Add to a kale salad with some plumped dried fruit.
- Mix with some leftover grains, add green onions, toasted nuts, fresh chopped herbs, crumbled feta or gorgonzola, and a drizzle of your favorite olive oil.
- Make winter squash tacos: Heat up tortillas, add black beans, your favorite salsa and a little crumbled cheese or crema.
- Sauté onions with your favorite seasoning blend, add roasted squash, and enough broth to cover the ingredients. Simmer together for 15 minutes and puree for a quick soup. Sage, rosemary, garlic, cumin, red chile, ginger, miso or coconut milk are all good additions to a winter squash soup.
- Make flatbread pizzas with roasted winter squash and gorgonzola. Bake until the cheese is melty (approximately 10 minutes at 400°F) and top with toasted walnuts and arugula before serving.
- Look no further for a hummus alternative: Deborah Madison makes a winter squash dip in her cookbook Vegetable Literacy that is guaranteed to impress guests or be the highlight of your afternoon snack.
Winter Squash Puree with Tahini, Green Onions and Black Sesame
by Deborah Madison
2 cups cooked winter squash
¼ cup tahini
Sea salt, to taste
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small bunch green onions, including a bit of the green parts, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, plus extra to finish
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant, to finish
Heat the cooked squash in a saucepan or skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in tahini and salt. When mixture is heated through, mash with the back of a spoon for a more rustic texture, or puree in a food processor or blender for a smoother consistency. While the squash is warming, heat the olive oil in a small skillet. When the oil is hot (but not smoking), add the green onions and cook to wilt slightly, about 2 minutes. Stir the oil and green onions into the squash and add the sesame oil. Transfer to serving bowl, sprinkle with black sesame seeds, and finish with a few drops of sesame oil.
So when you’re picking up your pumpkins for carving, throw a few more in your basket for a tasty addition to your meal plan!
How to choose, store and prepare winter squash
Choosing: Look for squash that are hard and free of cracks and bruises. A heavier squash is preferred as it has a higher water content and when cooked, will have a more concentrated, rich flavor. Lighter squashes (comparable to size) have been picked a while ago and are a bit dried out. The stem should also be intact. Don’t be afraid of bumpy, less than perfect skin either.
Storing: Store in a cool dark place. A good rule of thumb is the thicker the skin, the longer you can cellar it. This is great to keep in mind if you want to stock up when farmers market season comes to an end.
Prepping: When choosing your knife for the job, set the paring knife aside. You will have more success with a knife that has a longer blade. Give yourself a stable surface when peeling the squash with your knife by slicing off the top and bottom so it is less roly-poly and you have a flat surface to work with. Cut or peel the skin off in a length-wise direction. For thin-skinned squash like butternut, peel using your knife or a vegetable peeler. For thicker skin, your knife is the best way to go. If the squash is stubborn and hard to peel, bake in the oven for 10 minutes at 375°F to help loosen the skin. After peeling, scoop out seeds and cut into equal size pieces. (No need to be exact, but they should all be roughly the same size.)