Feature Image by LauriPatterson via Getty Images
The farmer’s market is quiet this time of year. The throngs of people vying for the best, biggest, greenest bunch of basil are gone, replaced instead by people looking to refresh their shower eucalyptus, poke through the apples that were picked months ago but through some sorcery are still crisp, and, well, winter squash enthusiasts (I’m a winter squash enthusiast).
It’s simultaneously winter squash season and it’s also… kind of not. The squash at the market, like the aforementioned apples, was probably picked months ago and stored in some cool, dark storage space. But at the same time, it’s cold outside. The sun sets ungodly early, and all I want is something warm and a little sweet and a lot comforting. Which, yes, hot chocolate fits the bill, but if I want the experience of hot chocolate in a vegetable form, winter squash usually does it.
If tomatoes were the Virgos of the produce world, consider winter squash the Capricorns. They won’t call you unexpectedly and invite you on a last-minute trip to a tropical island. They’ll respectfully text first, “Can I call you?”, and then ask if you want to go upstate, maybe in a few months, when the weather’s a little nicer. Much like Capricorns, winter squash is hardy, low maintenance, and honestly? A practical choice.
In the event that you have one too many winter squash in your home, or maybe you just need some cooking inspo to get you through the next few dreary weeks, try doing one of these with a squash!
High Heat and Something Wet
One of my favorite ways to eat squash is pretty much directly stolen from the restaurant Drifter’s Wife in Maine, where in 2019 I had the best solo meal of my life sitting at the bar, sipping a glass of white wine, and eating roasted squash drizzled with a salty peanut butter and tahini sauce, topped with some herbs. It was raining that day and also freezing (it was mid-October in Maine), but this dish warmed me right up.
If I’m roasting squash and I care about the presentation, I choose squash varieties that’ll look good sliced (delicata is a good option here). I don’t peel my delicata before roasting, mostly because I’m lazy, but also because the skin is usually really pretty! I do, however, cut it lengthwise down the middle and remove seeds (more on this later), and then slice those two pieces into small half-moons. The squash pieces get tossed with an ample amount of olive oil, and a little salt and pepper, and then get roasted until the flesh is tender and they’re just barely starting to brown!
The sauce is the highlight here (I love a sauce), and there’s plenty of room for experimentation.
You could do the tahini / peanut butter combo I mentioned — tahini, thinned out with water, peanut butter added in, soy sauce, a little salt, maybe top the entire thing with some cilantro — or you could go for something lighter and more acidic, still tahini as a base, but with yogurt and dill instead. Or go spicy! Start with tahini and add in a little harissa for some extra heat.
Unexpected Pasta Sauce
My top three as sauces? Sun in marinara, moon in pesto, and rising in butternut squash.
If you’re vegan or just eat a lot of homemade vegan macaroni and cheese, you might already know that squash forms the base of a very convincing vegan macaroni and cheese. To turn a heavy, bulbous, squash behemoth into a sauce, you will need to (unfortunately) peel it. It’s awful, but because it’s getting blended into something silky and smooth, the skin has to go. I hate peeling veggies in general, so sometimes I’ll just buy a bag of frozen, pre-cut squash to save myself time.
You could follow a recipe or you could just take what you know about sauce in general and apply it to squash! Maybe roast your squash with a few cloves of garlic and some sliced onion, and then dump the whole thing in a blender before adding a bunch of salt. Maybe stir in some parm! Or something acidic! Maybe both!
Soup, If You Must
I made this soup while staying in a cabin upstate with my friends on a trip that I did plan because, while I might be a Sag sun, I have a LOT of Capricorn in my chart! Four people from that trip have texted me on separate occasions asking for the recipe, which has done a lot for my ego. It is really just a genuinely good soup though.
This time, I don’t peel my squash. I slice it, scoop out the seeds using a spoon, and rub the cut side with olive oil before roasting for 45 minutes or so, until the flesh is super tender and a little brown. I pull the squash out of the oven, let it cool for a while, and the skin separates from the squash, making it super easy to peel it off with just my fingers. I usually strive for “good enough” here, so if the squash still has little bits of skin on it when I’m done… that’s okay.
I do a little tadka situation by tempering my spices in fat before starting to cook. I like to use cumin, Kashmiri chili powder (more than I think I’ll need), garam masala, cinnamon, and honestly anything else that seems interesting. Once my spices are fragrant, I pop in a few sliced shallots and salt them generously. The squash eventually goes in, smushed around a bit so that the flavored oil really sinks in, and then a bunch of water or broth. The whole thing just lives on my stove for 30-45 minutes, or until I decide it’s done, at which point the immersion blender comes out and does its thing.
I did not forget the seeds! If you have ample room in your garden, I guess you could plant them?
Sometimes, though, I just want a little snack while I’m waiting for my squash to finish roasting, and squash seeds are the perfect little snack. I dry them, then toss with olive oil and a bunch of spices — usually cumin, chili powder, coriander, a little paprika — along with some salt. If the oven is already on, I’ll toss my prepped seeds in there on a baking sheet. If the oven isn’t on (I have a Whole Thing about turning on the oven for a single small dish) I’ll use a shallow fry pan and cook the seeds on medium heat until they start to brown.
I like to eat them while they’re hot, usually with something bubbly (there’s something about hot, salty, crunchy snacks and cold bubbles), but they’re also great as crouton stand-ins for topping squash soup.