Fall is a favorite time of year for many of us, especially for gardeners who love fall garden harvests. Among the many plants that are ready to enjoy is winter squash. While there are several varieties, almost all of them can be cooked, stuffed, baked, and preserved in the same way. So it’s time to pull out your sweaters, order a pumpkin drink at the cafe, harvest your delicious squash, and get to cooking.
Before we get into preparing these amazing veggies, let’s talk about how you’ll know when they’re ready to harvest. All the suggestions and recipes below require a ripe and ready winter squash, so you’ll want to be sure you know how to identify one. If you pick a winter squash too early, it will be tough, bitter, and unpleasant to consume.
- Check the seed packet to see how many “days to maturity” that specific variety needs. If it’s close to that amount of days, you’re probably close to ready.
- The rind of the winter squash will turn to its “mature” coloring when it’s ripe and ready. This will be different for each type, so be sure to check the seed packet or do a quick Google search.
- You can also check by tapping the squash with your fingers; if it sounds hollow, it’s probably ready.
- Lastly, try sticking your thumbnail into the rind; if it’s soft and easy to pierce, it isn’t ready, but if it’s difficult to stick your nail in, it’s probably ready.
You’ve successfully grown some amazing winter squashes, you’ve now learned how to know when they are ready, and you’re itching to get to cook and eat these great foods. Here are some of the best ways to cook and enjoy winter squash.
All winter squashes are delicious when chopped into squares and roasted in the oven. You can add fresh rosemary and thyme and some salt and pepper. It makes a fantastic side to chuck roast, baked ham, or roasted chicken. You can even use it as a bed for a kale salad or a black bean bowl. Just be sure to remove the thick skin before roasting.
Take one of those beautifully ripe and ready winter squashes and cut it right in half. The thick skin might make this difficult, but with a sharp knife and careful slicing, you’ll be left with two halves that you can scoop out and stuff with almost anything you want. For example, you can make stuffed squash taco bowls or Italian-inspired stuffed squash with ground beef and parmesan.
Making spaghetti squash is probably one of the most popular ways people like to use up their squash. It’s easy, and it’s a healthy alternative to pasta. All you have to do is take a ripe squash, cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, then bake it for about 30 to 45 minutes. After it’s cooled off a bit, you’ll take a fork and “shred” the inside of the squash. You’ll then have tender squash “noodles” that you can serve in place of pasta in almost any dish.
Squash soup is another popular way to enjoy winter squash. It’s somewhat sweet, but it can be delicious with some Thai sauce and freshly baked bread. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you might want to invest in one if you plan on making a lot of squash soup.
The traditional pumpkin that you see everywhere during this time of year is a type of winter squash that can be eaten in similar ways. However, some of the most popular ways to enjoy pumpkins and winter squashes are in pies, muffins, and breads. Of course, we’ve all heard of pumpkin pie, muffins, and breads, but you might not have known that you can easily substitute most winter squashes instead of the pumpkin and still end up with a tasty treat.
If you enjoy mashed sweet potato or sweet potato casserole, you’ll probably love mashed winter squash. It can be a healthy side to any winter meal, or add some brown sugar and butter for a yummy after-dinner treat.
You can sometimes be left with too much squash after a big harvest, and even after all those yummy recipes above, you might wonder how you can preserve it to enjoy later in the year. Unfortunately, you can’t preserve squash like you can other veggies in your garden. Canning isn’t an option, but here are a few ways you can make your winter squash last longer.
The easiest way to keep your squash is by storing it whole in a cool, dry place. Of course, this isn’t a perfect science, and you still might lose a squash or two to mold, but they often last up to three months in storage. This might be just long enough to allow you to spread out your consumption of them, so you don’t get sick of squash.
The best way to freeze squash and the best way to make it last long into the winter months is by pureeing it first. Cut the squash into cubes, steam, bake, or boil it until it’s tender, then use a blender or emulsion blender to puree the squash. You can then freeze it in freezer-safe bags or jars.
Dehydrating winter squash will make it last about as long as storing it whole, but it’s an excellent way to change up how you eat it. It seems like everyone is making “chips” out of everything, and this includes winter squash. Thinly slice your squash and bake in the oven or a dehydrator for about 45 minutes to an hour. You can season them with salt and pepper or thyme and rosemary. These chips make great snacks that even dogs can enjoy.
After you’ve taken your Instagram-worthy photos of your beautiful fall harvest, try out some of these fantastic ways to cook, bake, mash, stuff, soup, spaghetti, and preserve these awesome veggies.
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