How to cut a squash

No chainsaw required.

I love squash, but I have always disliked cooking any but a soft-skinned zucchini or yellow crook-neck.  The starchy, potato-like texture of Kabocha (Japanese Pumpkin) is one of my very favorites, along with Delicata, a long, striped, impossibly sweet squash I only discovered this year.  Squash, including butternut, acorn, pumpkin and other varieties, have the additional benefits of being extremely cheap for the bounty they provide, low in calories, and rich in carotenoids and vitamins.

But you probably already know this. It’s likely that you’ve arrived here after standing over a squash pondering the lie you were told when you witnessed a disembodied hand effortlessly wielding a 10” chef’s knife cutting through the stem of a squash, followed by peeling or halving it for roasting.  Perhaps after that you did battle with a squash, wielding the sharp end of the knife toward the stem and ending up trying to prove your worth by extracting the Excalibur, now firmly stuck in the stony gourd.  And then, panting, you Googled.

Me too. Then I searched for solutions. It’s tempting, but I don’t like the microwave for this.  Microwaving squash can lead to mushy, oddly textured squash, because a microwave cooks from the center.  Pressure cooking will give you an even worse result.  I wanted to soften the hard exterior of the squash while preserving the interior texture for roasting (which can deliciously caramelize it).

Here is the easy solution:

  • Put the whole squash in the center of the oven on a baking sheet (I have cheap, dedicated baking sheets for roasting, as it will kill your nice cookie pans.  At a Target, these pans are $4.)
  • Set the oven to 400 degrees (204° C, gas mark 6)
  • Set a timer for 20 minutes and walk away. This is for a small squash, approximately 6 inches (15 cm) across.  For a larger squash, wait an additional 5 minutes.

Yes, you can set the oven once the squash is in and not the other way around, because why would you want to stand around waiting for it to heat up? 

A chef’s knife, a pair of tongs for hot squash, ice cream scoop, and a delicata, freshly seeded.

Once you remove the squash, which will now be quite hot on the outside, let it cool for about five minutes.  NOW try inserting the tip of your knife near the stem and bear down.  I don’t even take off the stem, I just cut the squash in half, preserving curvature at the top so the oven doesn’t dry it out during the roasting process. 

Oof, look at that clean line! Now the squash will like flat on the pan.

At this point, if you are cubing, you can peel, take of the stem, etc.  For spaghetti squash, roasting is a must for the correct texture. Still too difficult?  Put it back for five more minutes. 

I prefer to roast squash:

  • Cut in half
  • Scoop out the seeds with an ice-cream scoop
  • Lightly oil the pan and the insides of each half
  • Roast face-down for 45 more minutes (same temperatures as above)
Before roasting
After roasting. See that nice caramelization at the bottom right? Sweetness!

While I was at it, I remember the peppers and onions I wanted to roast for fajitas the following day.  So on they all went.  (if you roast peppers, just halve them, roast away, let them cool and peel away the outer skin).  The resulting squash can be easily scraped from the skin.

For Kabocha, we eat it as-is, or I like to mash it with a little butter and milk like mashed potatoes (or butter-replacement and soy milk – just as good).  Add butternut or Delicata to pasta, or eat as a side.  You can even make Kabocha fries. Spaghetti squash, which is itself a little miracle, goes really well with marinara sauce and other mixed vegetables.

Our child would like you to know that no one should eat squash under any circumstances.  This is also the kid who will have extra hot sauce, those roasted onions and peppers, but can be chased down with a sweet potato like it’s a weapon. More for me!

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