Since You Asked: It doesn't have to be hard to open squash

Now that winter-squash season is here, what's the trick to peeling butternut and spaghetti squashes? They're so hard, I don't know how to begin using them.

— Dora S. via email

For all their flavor and nutrients, hard-shell squashes can be a hard sell in the kitchen. A pumpkin-carving kit with saw-tooth blade works just as well on any winter squash, though.

But an easier way to tackle hard but smooth-skinned winter squashes is to start with the microwave, provided the squash fits inside. Use a metal skewer, a strong fork or tip of a small paring knife to poke several holes through the squash's skin. Then microwave it for about 3 minutes.

That will soften the skin a little, so the squash will be easier to cut it in half for roasting, or to use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to remove the skin and dice the squash. Before peeling, slice off the squash's top or bottom, so you have a flat surface to rest it on. You should have no problem using this technique with acorn, delicata and carnival varieties, too.

A spaghetti squash can be poked and microwaved the same way. Instead of peeling it, though, cut it in half, scrape out the seeds and either bake or steam the halves until the flesh is soft enough to release in long strands using a fork.

With a large squash like Hubbard, insert the point of a knife and use a meat mallet or rubber mallet to pound the blade into the squash. (Internet videos show people throwing them on concrete to split them open.)

If you can't use all that squash, freeze it. Cooked cubes or squash puree will keep frozen for up to a year in sealable freezer bags or containers. Squash that has been cut or cooked will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

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