Most of the time, when I think of “hacks,” I think of the make-your-life-easier tips and tricks to which this website is devoted.
But when I see all the winter squash and fresh pumpkins that are now front-and-center in the produce displays at supermarkets and farmer’s markets, the last thing I want to think about is hacking.
As in, trying to hack that gourd into two or more pieces before popping it in the oven. Wielding a sharp knife over a hard round thing is NOT my idea of fun.
Not to mention the fact that baking a supper side dish for an hour or more requires more planning-ahead and surplus meal-prep time than I can usually squeeze into my schedule.
So when I learned this hack for cooking butternut squash, it revolutionized my cooking. Best of all, it works on every winter squash I’ve tried.
I’ve even used it in early November to cook up the pumpkins on our front step that we bought the week before Halloween, but never quite got around to carving into jack-o-lanterns. (See “Mix It Up,” below.)
And not only is cooked squash a super side dish for grownups and kids alike, but it’s also perfect as homemade baby food. That picture at the top of this post would be Essie devouring her squash at dinner tonight, just as she has since she was a baby. That’s how much my kids like this recipe!
So, without further ado,
Easy “Baked” Winter Squash
Servings and time vary based on size of squash: 3-8 servings, 15-30 min. total time
What you need:
- One butternut or other winter squash, approximately 1-3 lbs. (0.5-1.5 kg)
- Glass baking dish or pie plate that is big enough to hold the squash, but small enough to fit in your microwave
- Microwave oven
The basic idea:
- Wash outside of squash thoroughly. With a fork, pierce the squash’s surface at regular intervals. Lay the squash on its side in the baking dish.
- Microwave on HIGH for 5 minutes; turn over the squash and microwave another 5 minutes.
- After 10 min. cooking time, squeeze the squash. If it’s soft, it’s cooked; remove from microwave. If it’s still somewhat firm, microwave an additional 5 minutes. If it’s still very firm, repeat step 2.
- Allow the squash to cool, if desired. Slice in half. With a large spoon, scoop out the seeds and strings; discard, or rinse and save for baking as dried seeds if desired. Using large spoon again, scrape out the cooked squash into a serving bowl. (If parts still aren’t cooked, pop back into the microwave for a few more minutes.)
- Serve as is, or season with one of the ideas below.
Mix it up:
- As noted above, this works with every winter squash (hard squash) I’ve tried: butternut, acorn, pumpkin, etc. – even spaghetti squash. Just be prepared to cook larger squashes for longer than the initial 10 minutes.
If you don’t want to eat your cooked squash plain, you have lots of seasoning choices. Salt, pepper, and butter work well for spaghetti squash, as do parmesan cheese and your favorite pasta sauce. Or use a meaty sauce, and you have a main course. Acorn squash is especially yummy with brown sugar sprinkled on top or mixed in. If you have high-quality vanilla ice cream, you can mix a scoop of that into a bowl of hot butternut squash before putting it on the table. Or try cinnamon and sugar, or a touch of ground ginger or cloves plus a little molasses, or a pinch of nutmeg with brown sugar, or even pumpkin pie spice.
- If you like fall and winter recipes that call for canned pumpkin, you can substitute pumpkin that you’ve cooked ahead of time (or even a different orange squash; butternut squash and “neck pumpkins” apparently make super pumpkin pies). After I’ve scooped out the microwaved pumpkin from its shell, I let it sit in a strainer for a few hours to get some of the liquid out, then freeze it in smaller containers for use in pumpkin dip, pumpkin bread, and other recipes calling for canned pumpkin. Just do a quick pass with an immersion blender or food processor if your recipe needs a smoother consistency.
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