Tuesday, November 16, 2010

All That Pumpkin...And Squash

If there's something that's nearly synonymous with Autumn, it's pumpkin and winter squash.  When they produce in your garde, they usually produce plentifully.  In the supermarket and farm stands, you can't find a better bargain at pennies per pound.  So how can you take that delicious squash and pumpkin flavor and save it so that it lasts through the winter?  More importantly, how do you get the flesh out of the darned thing without chopping your fingers off?

My favorite method is to roast, portion, and freeze them.  It's the easiest, most hands-off method, and it doesn't require a lot of fancy equipment.  Plus, the roasting process makes the flesh even sweeter than it already is, turning a good squash into a great squash.  The method works great for any type of squash--butternut, acorn, pumpkin, buttercup, etc.  Here's how to do it.

First, cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds and as much stringy material as you can.  I find a tablespoon to be the best tool.  Lightly oil a sheet or baking pan and place the squash cut-side down on the pan.

Bake the squash at 350 degrees, checking every 15-20 minutes.  When you can push a butter knife through the skin and the flesh without resistance, remove it from the oven and let it cool.  Here's where the optional fancy equipment comes into play.

No Fancy Equipment:
Turn the cooled squash over and scoop the soft flesh away from the skin and into a bowl.  It's a little messy, but still easier than peeling a hard uncooked squash.  Mash the flesh with a regular old potato masher.  If you're planning to bake with it, consider pressing it through a fine sieve with the back of a wooden spoon.

Power  Tools:
If you have a food processor, separate the flesh from the skin as you would for the "No Fancy Equipment" method but then take the flesh for a whiz in the food processor until it's nice and smooth.  If the plan is to serve it as a side dish, simply whipping it with an electric mixer will do.

Kicking it Old-School:
My favorite tool is an old-fashioned cone-shaped ricer or a food mill (also called a Foley Mill).  Though they both run on man power, they make quick work of the tough stringy flesh often found inside winter squash and pumpkin.

The next step is up to you.  If you'll be serving it, a little brown sugar to taste is all it needs, in my opinion.  Best Thanksgiving side dish you could ask for.

If you want to store it, the freezer is the tool for the job.  Measure out 15-16 oz portions (by volume is fine if you don't have a scale) and scoop into zip-top bags.  Each bag will be approximately the same size as "one can" of store-bought pumpkin or squash puree, perfect for adding to your favorite Pumpkin Bread, Pumpkin Pie, or Pumpkin Cake recipe.  Or, if you need a quick veggie for a weeknight meal, just take it out, pop it into the microwave, and serve.


  1. Great tip for freezing portions, Justin!

  2. Thanks! I learned that tip the hard way...when you want to make a pie and it calls for "one can" and you have an unknown amount frozen solid in a block. :-)

  3. Why do you roast them flesh side down? I always do my squashes flesh side up with a little butter, s&p. Just curious. :)

  4. Good question.

    My theory (and I've never tested this) is that when roasted cut-side down, it'll trap steam and they'll end up steaming inside the cavity and possibly cook faster.

    Also, when I'm doing pumpkin for pies or cakes, as opposed to for serving straight-up, I want minimal browning. If you want a nice caramelized top for serving as a side-dish, roasting them the way you do will probably provide more depth flavor.

    As far as the seasoning goes, I season afterwards simply out of convenience. I'm also usually after sweet, not savory, so S&P takes a backseat to sugar.

    And the oil instead of butter is simply to keep it from sticking (since the oil isn't really exposed to the heat). Again, right-side up, butter will contribute to browning and flavor.


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