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How to cook winter squash, plus 5 recipes

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Like summer squash, mild-tasting winter squash welcomes bold flavor additions. [Photos by Kristen Mendiola, food styling by Shannon Kinsella/The Daily Meal]

All summer, we enjoy our share of zucchini and summer squashes. Come autumn, we happily embrace their harder-shelled, densely-fleshed, sweet-tasting brethren. Like summer squash, mild-tasting winter squash welcomes bold flavor additions. Unlike summer squash, most winter squash varieties keep well for weeks, sometimes months, so fans can stock up at local farmers markets and produce stands.

There are dozens and dozens of squash varieties; it’s worth your time to get to know them. Acorn squash has long been an American staple, but it’s certainly not the most interesting flavor-wise. Three favorites — butternut, spaghetti squash and kabocha—can be found readily in large grocery stores. More exotic renditions, such as buttercup, red kuri, Hubbard and delicata, show up at farmers markets in early fall.

No matter what kind of squash you decide to try, select a squash that is heavy, rock hard and free of blemishes. When possible, choose squashes with their stems attached — these will keep the longest.

Once purchased, you’ll need to address peeling and cutting the squash. Not all squashes need to be peeled, but if they do, peel using a vegetable peeler, then switch to a paring knife to trim any stubborn bits before cubing.

If you are not peeling your squash, be careful! Cutting through the tough skin requires a sharp knife and some pressure. Make sure your cutting board is stable and keep your eyes on the knife. Cut the squash in half, then scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Set the cut side down to cut into wedges or smaller pieces. Enlist help to cut up the squash. The reward is delicious!

After the squash is peeled, cut or sliced, you can keep it in the refrigerator for three to five days. This makes weekday squash cooking doable for time-pressured cooks. You can freeze raw diced squash on a baking sheet until solid. Then scoop the frozen pieces into a freezer-safe bag and freeze for up to six months, so you can make fresh squash soups, stews and braises all year long. Cooked squash also keeps well in the refrigerator and can be frozen.

The flesh isn’t the only edible part of squash; the seeds can be rinsed, salted and slow-roasted in a 200-degree oven, stirring often, for an hour or more, until crispy. They work great as a healthy desk snack or a crunchy addition to salads.

Note that most winter squash varieties are interchangeable in recipes with some subtle changes in flavor, though their yields will vary thusly:

Kabocha: A 2 1/4-pound squash, peeled and seeded, yields 6 cups of cubes (about 2 pounds)

Butternut: A 3-pound squash yields 3 to 4 cups of peeled cubes from bulbs and 1 1/4 pound of peeled round slabs from the neck

Spaghetti squash: A 3-pound squash yields 4 generous cups of shredded cooked flesh (about 1 pound 14 ounces)

Now that you are armed with the knowledge of how to cook squash, test your skills with these five recipes.

Grilled Butternut Rounds. [Photos by Kristen Mendiola, food styling by Shannon Kinsella/The Daily Meal]

Grilled Butternut Rounds

Butternut squash is the gift that keeps on giving. I cut the bulbous end into cubes for roasting, steaming or soup. The longer neck of the squash can be peeled and sliced into round slabs, which are perfect for grilling.

Serve these grilled squash rounds on brioche rolls smeared with mayonnaise and topped with grilled onion and pickles for a very satisfying meatless burger. Or, sprinkle with herbs and a little lime juice and serve with cooked farro or French lentils.

1 very large butternut squash, about 3 1/2 pounds, with a thick “neck” 3 inches or more in diameter

Expeller pressed canola oil, safflower oil or sunflower oil, as needed

2 teaspoons chile powder

1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt

Preheat a gas grill or prepare a charcoal grill for moderately low heat.

Cut the squash in half so you have the bulbous end and the longer neck. Save bulbous end for another use (peeled and cubed for steaming, for example). Peel squash neck, then lay it flat on a cutting board and use a large sharp knife to cut it into 3/8-inch thick rounds.

Place rounds on a baking sheet and brush generously with some of the oil. Sprinkle both sides with the chile powder and salt.

Grill covered over low heat, turning once, until tender when pierced with a fork, for about 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Makes 6 slices.

Roasted Acorn Squash, Two Ways. [Photos by Kristen Mendiola, food styling by Shannon Kinsella/The Daily Meal]

Roasted Acorn Squash, Two Ways

1 large acorn squash

Expeller pressed canola oil, safflower or sunflower oil, as needed

Coarse (kosher) salt, as needed

3 tablespoons Caper-raisin relish (recipe follows) OR 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon Sriracha

Chopped fresh herbs, such as chives, basil or cilantro, for garnish

Heat oven to 375 F. Pierce the acorn squash in several places with tip of a sharp knife. Put into a baking dish. Bake in preheated oven until squash starts to soften, for about 20 minutes, then remove from oven.

Carefully cut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Brush cut side with some of the oil. Sprinkle all over with the salt. Return to baking dish cut side up. Bake until flesh is tender when pierced with a fork, for 40 to 50 minutes.

Spoon some of the Caper-raisin relish into each squash cavity. Or, put half of the butter and sriracha into each cavity. Return to oven to heat through, for about 10 minutes.

Serve hot or warm topped with the fresh herbs. Makes 2 servings.

Caper-Raisin Relish

This nearly addictive sweet and tangy caper raisin relish complements virtually everything from simple steamed squash to grilled poultry. Try it over pasta tossed with shredded Romano cheese for a bold-flavored dish. Omit the anchovies if they are not your thing, but replace them with some dried mushroom powder or a splash of soy sauce for an umami punch.

1/4 cup dark raisins

2 tablespoons drained capers

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

1 1/2 teaspoons finely minced anchovy fillet or 1/2 teaspoon mushroom powder

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Put the dark raisins into a small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons very hot water and let stand for 5 minutes. Drain water off raisins.

Stir in the drained capers, balsamic vinegar, fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Stir in the garlic, anchovy fillet (or substitute mushroom powder), red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper.

May be made up to 3 days in advance and stored covered in refrigerator. Just before serving, stir in 1 or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil. Makes about 2/3 cup.

Kabocha Hash With Minted Ricotta and Caper-Raisin Relish. [Photos by Kristen Mendiola, food styling by Shannon Kinsella/The Daily Meal]

Kabocha Hash With Minted Ricotta and Caper-Raisin Relish

Caper-Raisin Relish (see related recipe)

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

4 cups (16-20 ounces) cubed, peeled kabocha squash (about 3/4-inch piece size)

1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil or expeller pressed canola oil or safflower oil

1 medium-size red or sweet onion, peeled, halved and cut into 1/4-inch wedges

1 small poblano or red bell pepper, cored and diced 1/3-inch

1 small jalapeno, stemmed, halved, seeded and finely chopped

Make Caper-Raisin Relish.

In a small bowl, mix the ricotta, mint leaves, salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature for up to 30 minutes or refrigerate covered for up to a day.

Put the kabocha squash cubes in a microwave-safe bowl and add 1/3 cup water. Cover with microwave-safe plastic wrap, vented at one corner. Microwave on high (100% power), stirring once or twice, until nearly tender, for about 5 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes. Drain.

Heat a large, well-seasoned cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the oil, then the chopped onion. Cook, stirring often, until golden, for about 5 minutes. Stir in drained squash, the diced poblano and finely chopper jalapeno. Cook, mashing squash lightly until things start to get crusty and crispy, for about 10 minutes.

Serve hot dolloped with minted ricotta and some Caper-Raisin Relish.

Makes 2 main course or 4 side-dish servings.

Spaghetti Squash With Spicy Walnut Picada and Parmesan

Spaghetti squash does best in a steamy environment. A microwave oven proves perfect. I cook one half at a time, cut side down, in water. Then after a cooling-off period, I use a large fork to pull it into long strands — hence its name. A container of cooked spaghetti squash strands keeps for days in the refrigerator and reheats beautifully in the microwave. Season the strands as you would pasta — simply with oil and pepper — or lavishly with a walnut picada and cheese.

1 spaghetti squash, about 3 pounds, halved lengthwise and seeds removed

3/4 cup walnut pieces

3 tablespoons walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley,

3 tablespoons chopped chives (or scallion tops)

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary or 1/4 teaspoon dried

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Finely grated zest from 1 lemon

Coarse (kosher salt), freshly ground black pepper, as needed

1 large garlic clove, peed and crushed

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese, for serving

Put 1 of the spaghetti squash halves, cut side down, in a microwave-safe casserole dish. Add 1 inch of water to dish. Cover with a lid or microwave-safe plastic wrap vented at one corner. Microwave on high (100% power) until squash pierces easily with tip of a knife, for about 10 minutes. Cool. Repeat to cook other squash half.

Meanwhile, for walnut picada, toast the walnut pieces in a small nonstick skillet just until fragrant, for 2 to 3 minutes. Do not walk away, or nuts might burn. Cool on a cutting board, then chop finely.

In a small bowl, mix chopped walnuts with the walnut oil, chopped parsley, chopped chives, minced rosemary, pepper flakes and lemon zest in a small bowl. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Use tines of a large fork to pull cooked squash from skin in long shreds. Place shreds in a serving bowl. Toss with the crushed garlic clove and the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm sprinkled with walnut picada. Offer the shredded cheese at the table.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.