Forget the Canned Pumpkin: Roast Your Own Winter Squash

Whatever you’re cooking this year for your Thanksgiving meal, there is probably a winter squash involved somewhere, like in pumpkin pie. If you usually use canned pumpkin, why not try roasting your own pumpkin or other winter squash this year?

If you’ve ever gone to a pick-your-own pumpkin farm, or to the farmer’s market around Thanksgiving, then you’ve probably seen all the beautiful colors and shapes that winter squash come in. It’s fun to try different varieties, because you may discover one that you love. Also, it’s more economical to buy a squash and roast it. A single pumpkin or other variety of squash will yield several times the amount you get in a can, and it’s just as tasty and even more fresh and nutritious.

Just as importantly, roasting squash couldn’t be easier. You put it in the oven, set a timer, and forget about it. I’ll take you through the steps of roasting squash below.

I chose a buttercup squash for roasting, because it has a thick, buttery flesh, as opposed to other varieties like acorn squash, which are lighter and more watery. Second, my father-in-law, Roger, who is the best baker I know, always uses buttercup for his pumpkin pies. Other good choices would be sugar pumpkins, butternut, Hubbard, Long Island cheese, or long neck squash varieties. This page shows many different varieties of winter squash, and what dishes they’re good for.

Once you have your cooked squash, you can use it in any number of recipes. Here are a few suggestions:

Instructions for roasting squash

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet with no-taste oil.

Step 2: Set the squash on a cutting board, lift a cleaver or other heavy knife high in the air with both hands, and do a walloping karate chop down the center of the squash, or as close to the center as you can get. If the halves are very large, and seem like they will take a long time to cook through, cut them in half again, like I did. If you’re using a butternut, just cut off the round bottom from the long neck, and then cut both pieces in half down the middle. The most important thing is to keep your fingers far away from where the blade of the knife comes down.

Step 3: Scoop out the squash seeds. If they’re good for eating, like butternut squash seeds, clean them off and roast them separately.

Step 4: Place the squash flesh side down on the baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes. At this point, the skin should be soft enough that you can poke several holes in it with a fork, which will help it to cook the rest of the way. Continue roasting for another fifteen minutes, or until the flesh is very tender.

Step 5: Let the squash cool to room temperature.

Step 6: Scoop out the flesh. Discard the skin.

Step 7: Cook the squash into your favorite dish. If you’re using the cooked squash to make pumpkin pie, you can put it in a food processor and whiz it around several times to make the flesh very smooth and creamy.

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