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Exploring Winter Squash: There's More to Life Than Pumpkin Spice

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Winter Squashes (there might be a pumpkin in there)

Winter Squashes (there might be a pumpkin in there)

They've Gone Too Far!

Do you remember the “good old days”? You know what I mean—when Halloween was for children, and Christmas decorations did not appear in stores until the first day of December.

When Memorial Day was a day of remembrance and we honored our heroes on Veterans Day.

When celebrating our nation’s independence was about parades and community celebrations instead of the “right” to inflict pyromania on frightened pets, emotionally wounded soldiers, and the next door neighbor’s cedar shake roof.

When Valentine's Day candy was never seen before the 1st of February, and we didn’t turn every holiday into a three-day weekend.

And when pumpkin appeared once a year, in a pie—on the Thanksgiving Day table.

Pumpkin Everything!


Now every sweet substance on the face of the earth is flavored with pumpkin—cookies, cakes, granola, donuts, lattes, frappes, milkshakes, French toast, pancakes, and pop tarts.

And it gets worse—potato chips, pretzels, hummus, yogurt, and even kale chips get the pumpkin-spice treatment.

Want something a bit more hearty? There’s pumpkin macaroni and cheese. Pumpkin lasagna.

Even the beverage aisle is not immune. Pumpkin has infiltrated the craft- and micro-brewers. And, believe it or not, Pinnacle has produced a pumpkin-flavored vodka.

Enough Already!!

Julia Child once famously said that “everything is better with butter.”

She said nothing about adding pumpkin to everything you consume.

First, pumpkins are not the only winter squash. There are many others that are easier to cook and bake with, and (in my humble opinion) are better tasting.

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Which One Should You Use?

With the exception of spaghetti squash (for obvious reasons), all winter squashes are pretty much interchangeable. You can use any of these in recipes that call for pumpkin.

 winter squashes

winter squashes

List of Winter Squashes

  1. Kabocha—Nutty, earthy, slightly sweet. Cook it like an acorn squash.
  2. Butternut—This is my absolute favorite squash and probably the most popular. Shaped like a bowling pin, this squash is easy to peel, and has fewer seeds than other varieties so there is less waste. Sweet and solid, not fibrous.
  3. Red Kabocha—Very sweet.
  4. Carnival—Cross between an acorn and sweet dumpling.
  5. Sugar pumpkin—Classic pumpkin flavor. This is the pumpkin cooking/baking (not carving) pumpkin.
  6. Sweet dumpling—Tastes like a sweet potato.
  7. Spaghetti—Scrape the cooked flesh with a fork to produce strings that resemble spaghetti. A good alternative for those who are gluten sensitive.
  8. Blue hubbard—A much smaller version of the typical hubbard squash.
  9. Delicata—Soft and creamy like sweet potato, but with a more earthy flavor. Skin is tender and edible.
  10. Red Kuri—Smooth, chestnut-like flavor.
  11. Buttercup—Cooked flesh is dense, a bit dry, and very mild.
  12. Acorn—Named for its shape. This one is small enough to feed just two people (or one large appetite). Choose the green ones; those that are golden will be more fibrous and tough.

The Recipes

Squash for breakfast or brunch? The sweet flavor of butternut squash contrasts perfectly with the earthy flavor of russet potato and the salty smoked salmon.


Smoked Salmon Hash With Butternut Squash


  • 2 large russet potatoes, cut in 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 cups butternut squash, cut in 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 pound smoked salmon
  • 1 tsp. fresh minced dill, (optional)


  1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil to the pan and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the diced potatoes and butternut squash to the pan. Cover and cook about 3 minutes or until the squash and potatoes begin to soften.
  2. Add the onions and cook, uncovered, until the onions soften a bit and the potato and squash are browned and tender.
  3. Mince the smoked salmon and add to the potato/squash/onion hash. Continue to cook and stir until the salmon is heated through.
  4. Sprinkle with fresh dill and serve.

Squash Bisque

Squash makes a wonderful appetizer when used in this creamy vegetarian soup. Unlike most squash bisques, this one is savory, not sweet.


  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage (or 1 tsp. dried)
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped (about 5 cups chopped)
  • 5 cups canned low-salt vegetable broth
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper


  1. Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; cover and cook until soft, stirring occasionally--about 7 minutes.
  2. Add chopped sage; stir 1 minute. Add squash and broth.
  3. Increase heat to high and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until squash is very tender, about 25 minutes. Cool slightly.
  4. Puree soup in batches in blender until smooth. Return soup to pot. Mix in cheese.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Here are two main dish winter squash recipes that actually taste good (not like pumpkin pie combined with pasta).

Pumpkin Risotto


  • 1 small sugar pumpkin (or any other hard winter squash such as acorn), about 1.5 lbs
  • 6 cups chicken stock or vegetable broth, brought to a simmer
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup white wine (not too dry--a Riesling is nice)
  • 1 tsp. finely shredded fresh sage
  • 4 T grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup Gorgonzola (or other bleu cheese of your liking, optional)


  1. To begin, cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and then peel. Cut the flesh into small (about 1/2-inch) dice. Saute the pumpkin in the butter on low heat until it begins caramelize and softens. (You want it to "give" when pierced with a knife--think texture--done but still slightly firm, not soft and squishy). Remove the pumpkin to a bowl and set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan saute the onion over medium heat in the 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the minced garlic and the rice; stir until the rice is coated with oil.
  3. Add the white wine and then about 1 cup of the stock, stir and let simmer over medium-low heat until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Repeat this process, ladeling in stock, stirring, and simmering until all of the stock is used and the rice is cooked through. This will take about 20 minutes.
  4. Stir in the pumpkin and then the parmesan and fresh sage. Stir until the cheese is blended in and the mixture appears creamy. If desired, crumble a bit of gorgonzola on top of each serving.

Potato Gnocchi With Winter Squash


  • 1 butternut squash, small
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 pkg. potato gnocchi, 500 grams (17.6 oz.)
  • 1 1/4 cups half and half
  • 1 cup Gorgonzola, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup fresh spinach, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons hazelnuts, crushed
  • grated parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional)


  1. Peel, seed, and dice (about 1/2-inch) squash--enough to make about 2 cups. Heat butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender and well browned. Remove from pan and set aside.
  2. In the same saute pan, bring the half and half to a simmer over low heat. Add the Gorgonzola and stir until the cheese begins to melt.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil over medium-high heat. Cook gnocchi according to package directions. Drain and add to the half and half/Gorgonzola mixture in the saute pan. Add the cooked diced squash and spinach and stir gently until the spinach is wilted and all of the gnocchi and squash are coated with sauce and are heated through.
  4. Garnish with hazelnuts and Parmesan cheese.

How to Prepare a Squash (And Not Risk a Trip to the Emergency Room)

Winter squash can be rather intimidating, especially to the novice cook. They don't hold still (they are round, hard, and can squirm like a two-year-old). And, they are full of seeds that need to be removed--but how do you get to those seeds without risking the loss of a digit?

I have one word for you—microwave. View this link to see how to use your microwave oven to soften a winter squash just enough to make it easier to cut, open, and prepare for cooking.

© 2015 Linda Lum

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