Squashes and pumpkins – how to and favourite recipes
Americans do autumn better. I am biased though. This time of year – the lead up to halloween – was the high point of my year as a kid. It was without doubt the free reign on a bucket of sweets that made me love it so, but the pumpkins were part of it too.
Americans go for it when it comes to pumpkins and squash. Cascades of the orange, blue and yellow squashes spilling down staircases. One year in West Virginia I even went to a pumpkin orchestra, it was certainly too much, but I loved it.
In the kitchen as the days grow darker, squash and pumpkins are what I want to eat. Now is their glory time. But like you, sometimes I buy them and they sit, looking round and cute in my kitchen for weeks, especially the weirder ones. The hard skins, the scooping out and the slicing up. It can seem like a pain. But really it’s all about buying the right squash, thinner-skinned ones that you don’t have to peel, or ones you easily can roast whole – those are my kind of squash.
There are so many different types – with varying availability around the UK (try Forge Farm for mail order squash) – but I find that most good greengrocers have a selection worth seeking out. Here are a handful of my favourites, with some inspiration for cooking them, too.
A NOTE OF CAUTION
A note of caution. Please take care when cutting squash. The thick skin and the watery insides make them a bit risky. Use a big sharp knife to cut them in half first and be very careful you DO NOT touch the blade part of your knife with your other hand. Once cut in half make sure you always cut the squash with the flat surface on the board for stability.
Though I’ve given ideas below that are more specific to different varieties, all types will work when simply roasted. I mash roast squash with roasted garlic on toast, or toss caramelised chunks into warm salads. Serve any squash with tahini and yoghurt for a crowd-pleasing side, or peel thinly into ribbons and dress with lemon and oil for a raw squash salad. Or you can easily blitz it into a warming soup, adding little more than stock and a few spices for a sustaining lunch.
A NOTE ON PEELING
Whether to peel your squash or not depends on two things: what you want to use it for, and the thickness of the skin of that particular squash.
I tend not to peel if I can get away with it, as I am lazy. Butternut, Delicata and Onion squash are almost always good to cook in a soup or stew or roast unpeeled. Crown Prince, Kabocha and pumpkins require you to use your instincts a little more. Smaller ones will be fine eaten with skin on, but huge ones might need peeling for a soup or a stew, though you will probably be fine roasting with the skin on.
Keep them dry and at room temperature. Many squashes will last up to a year when kept in the right conditions. At this time of year I have squash dotted around the kitchen like friends.
The seeds should not be wasted. Scoop them out and wash well to remove from the stringy flesh then toss the dry seeds with a little olive oil and smoked salt and roast for ten minutes for a moreish snack, or garnish.
Butternut squash is beginner’s squash. “My first squash” if you like. I am sure you have cooked with these.
They have a mellow but sweet and creamy flavour. The neck is all flesh and the seed pod is in the bottom so its pretty easy to prepare. The bottom half where the seeds are can be scooped out and stuffed too. No need to peel butternut usually. Good for a hassleback squash – there are lots of recipes out there.
This is a favourite warming winter or autumn dinner. It’s crispy-topped, with a sweet butternut, lemon and herb filling. It’s super-easy to put together and is made from simple stuff that I usually have to hand.
This is a longer, thinner squash, usually a pale yellow/orange with green stripes. It is thinner skinned than the other winter squashes, and the shape means it’s great for cutting into chunks and slices (it has a pretty frill once cut) to roast. The long seed pod makes it good for stuffing too. You can roast with the skin on here too. The flavour is a bit milder and less sweet than some of the other more orange-fleshed squashes.
I eat this with lime-dressed buckwheat noodles or brown rice.
This is my favourite squash. It has a more intense flavour than many – a bit sweeter and nuttier. It also has tougher flesh, so is really good for cutting into wedges and BBQing or griddling. As it’s quite big and hard, it can be a pain to prepare.
This recipe saves a lot of work, as squash, potatoes and greens can be cooked together in one tray. The chilli, miso and lemon combo is a great foil for some of the richer seasonal dishes.
Onion squash is bright reddish orange and, well, shaped like a big onion. They have a deep, intensely flavoured dark orange flesh and vary in size quite a bit. They are brilliant roasted whole or stuffed. You can also peel them and shave into ribbons with a citrusy dressing. You can roast and eat with the skin on too so no need to peel.
Roast squash is something that I have returned to after a few years of avoiding it. Along with the other vegetarian stalwarts of mushroom risotto and stuffed peppers, there was a time when roast squash was the offering of choice and it got a bit boring. This recipe has me welcoming roast squash back with open arms, thanks to two things: firstly its very British flavours – there’s not a pomegranate in sight; and secondly how it’s cooked. I roast the squash until it’s completely cooked before stuffing it, making sure that it is crisp inside and out and the filling is well seasoned and light.
Kabocha are squat, largiesh dark grey-green squash with a deep orange, distinctly sweet buttery flesh that holds its shape once cooked. The Delica is a variety grown in Italy and brought to the UK by Natoora. They are worth seeking out. They are dusted with chalk to protect them from the sun and cured in rooms with wood burners until they are perfectly ripe. This vivid variety is sealed with distinctive red wax. The vibrant flesh caramelises easily due to a high sugar content. I normally peel for soups or stews.
A cheerful bowl.
Illustrations by Jess Lea-Wilson
Photo by Issy Croker