Tag Archives: Winter Squash

On the Menu: Roasted Butternut Squash with Cranberry-Ginger Butter and Toasted Walnuts

A few weeks ago I mentioned my imaginary friend Shorty. Things have gotten worse. Now I have a whole bunch of imaginary friends. I had a party and invited them over two nights ago. It was a spur of the moment thing, so there was no time to invite real friends.

I had been making my black bean chili all afternoon—one of the last recipes for the new book, and one I’m particularly excited about. But once I had a big pot of the stuff on my hands around 6 o’clock, I realized I needed to get an accurate read on the portion sizes—not just of the chili, but of the rice, the vegetables, and the garnishes that go with it. So I made all the accompaniments and then started putting out little bowls (each for a half-size portion), figuring I’d kill many birds with one stone. (Our pet, Ellie the Lovebird, with whom I have a tenuous relationship, did not like this analogy.)

Not only did I want to test proportions, but I wanted to test different taste combinations. So I put little name cards next to the bowls as a fun way to indicate the different combinations. “I think I’ll blog about this,” I told Roy, who was looking at me with amusement. “No, I think I should write the next blog,” he said, “about what it’s like to live with a cookbook writer on deadline.” Needless to say, I’m keeping him far away from the keyboard.

Happily both Roy and I and all of the imaginary guests (or as best as we can figure) liked all of the chili combinations. But everyone’s favorite vegetable topping for the bean chili was roasted butternut squash. I nibbled on the squash as we were cleaning up (the guests did not hang around to do the dishes), and I thought about what a delicious side dish roasted butternut is, simply diced up and cooked on high heat. But even better, a super-quick flavored butter (my favorite has lots of chopped dried cranberries, fresh ginger, and a little lime in it) turns this earthy-sweet vegetable into a real star. So I’m passing along that recipe—since I can’t share the chili recipe just yet.

The only problem with this recipe is portion size (ack—the bane of my existence!). Even if you scooch up the amount of raw squash to 1 1/4 lbs. (any more than this amount on one large sheet pan will steam, not roast), you still only wind up with about enough to serve 3 people as a side, because this is so tasty. At least you won’t have to invite any imaginary friends to eat the leftovers.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Cranberry-Ginger Butter & Toasted Walnuts


1 to 1 1/4 lb. peeled butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons chopped dried cranberries

1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon finely grated lime zest

½ teaspoon fresh lime juice; more if needed

2 tablespoons finely chopped toasted walnuts

2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)


Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a large heavy-duty rimmed sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper. In a mixing bowl, toss the squash with the olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Spread the squash in one layer on the sheet pan. Roast, flipping once with a spatula after about 18 minutes, until the squash are tender and  brown on the bottom and around the edges, about 12 minutes more or 30 to 32 minutes total.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat and add the cranberries, the fresh ginger, and the lime zest. Stir well and cook to soften the cranberries a bit, about 1 minute. Take the saucepan off the heat while waiting for the vegetables to finish roasting.

Transfer the squash to a mixing bowl. Reheat the cranberry butter to loosen it up if necessary. Add the ½ teaspoon lime juice, stir, and pour and scrape all of the cranberry butter into the bowl with the squash. Toss thoroughly but gently. Taste and add up to ½ teaspoon more lime juice if desired. Add the walnuts and cilantro (if using) and toss again. Serve right away.

Serves 3 (maybe 4!) as a side

Winter Squash Taste Test: Geeky, Yes, But Don’t You Want to Know the Results?

Sometimes, you just don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. Take my boyfriend, Roy, for example. I’m sure when he met me, he had no idea that one day he’d be standing around the kitchen island (which he built for me) with seven spoons and a heap of roasted squash in front of him. Fortunately, what I didn’t know (but suspected) when I met him, is that he’s a really good sport. Last Sunday, he agreed to do the winter squash taste test with me. Lucky him.

I dreamed up this little experiment after we found ourselves in possession of several different kinds of winter squash. I’ve loved taste comparisons ever since I was introduced to them at culinary school years ago. We did a lot of them at Fine Cooking, too, in order to recommend brands of chicken stock or canned tomatoes or olive oil to cooks. The worst taste test we ever did was butter. Tasting 8 different brands of butter in one morning will make anyone feel sick. The best? Bittersweet chocolate, of course. In fact, I’ve learned so much about flavor differences in both natural and manmade products over the years from taste tests, that I’m constantly urging other cooks to conduct their own at home. (A great place to start is with something you buy and use a lot, like extra-virgin olive oil. Buy a few different grocery-store brands and taste them side by side to find your favorite—you’ll be amazed at how different they are. Lately I’ve been liking Trader Joe’s Spanish olive oil.)

But not to belabor the point, here’s how we conducted the squash test: I cut each of the squash in half, scooped out the seeds, seasoned them ever so lightly with a little salt, and roasted them, cut side-down, on buttered parchment paper, until they were completely tender and lightly caramelized (about 1 hour 20 minutes on average). I turned the squash over, let them cool a bit, and scooped some of the flesh out of each for us to taste side by side. We each had one or two bites of each squash, and I took notes on the taste, texture, and color.

The first thing I noticed of course, before we even tasted, was the big range in color and texture among the squash. (To identify the squash, see the photo at the end of the blog with IDs underneath.)The Red Kuri, Buttercup, and Butternut squash have deep orangey-red flesh and a dense texture. The Delicata, Acorn, Sweet Dumpling, and Carnival all had a more yellowy golden flesh, although within them, the texture varies (Delicata and Dumpling being creamy, Acorn and Carnival more fibrous.) The cool part of the comparison, though, was how different they all tasted. Here’s what we thought.

Butternut—smooth, rich, dense flesh with a distinctively nutty flavor
Red Kuri—texture like a baked potato, very robust smoky-nutty flavor, intensely “squashy” in a good way; deeply colored (Susie’s favorite)
Buttercup—dense flesh with a very flavorful flesh reminiscent of caramel and peanuts
Delicata—very creamy flesh, light and bright tasting, flavor hints of summer squash
Carnival—moderately fibrous flesh, light sweet-sour flavor, our least favorite (sorry, Carnival)
Sweet Dumpling—flesh is a bit fibrous but creamy too, very sweet with a bit of tang, a light flavor
Acorn—fibrous texture but with a complex nutty-sweet-bright flavor (Roy’s favorite)

So there you have our unofficial and biased results. I’d recommend trying the Red Kuri if you haven’t, and I’d consider using it or Buttercup in place of Butternut in soups for a richer flavor. Though Carnival is a beguiling looking squash, I’d definitely stick with the similar but better tasting Acorn for stuffing, or go with the pleasantly sweet and creamy Delicata or Dumpling.

Squash IDs, clockwise, starting from top left: Butternut, Acorn, Carnival, Red Kuri, Buttercup, Delicata, Sweet Dumpling

Squish-Squash: A So-So Day in the Test Kitchen

Not every day is a winner in a food writer’s test kitchen. In fact, yesterday was kind of a stinker, if I’m really to be honest. I made some stuffed winter squash which was just—not good. I’ll spare you the details about the stuffing, but I have to tell you, the most frustrating thing was this: The squash were under-ripe. And so, as beautiful as they were raw (see the lovelies at left), the squash were fibrous and bland when cooked. I know—I’m really making you salivate, now, huh?

I more or less suspected this was the case when I picked the squash in the days leading up to Hurricane Earl. Uh, I mean Tropical Storm Earl. Or maybe Lite & Breezy Earl is more like it. It just didn’t amount to much, but everyone was scurrying around plucking fruit—ripe or not—from vine and tree alike before the storm. I succumbed—before  I had solved this dilemma of “how do you tell when winter squash is ripe?”

I know, I am supposed to be a vegetable expert. So I should definitely be hanged (or maybe something less dramatic) for continuing to cook the squash once I cut it open and started digging the seeds out of the hard, pale flesh. I knew for sure then that the squash (especially the Delicatas) were under-ripe. (You’ve probably had this experience with a slightly green butternut squash you’ve bought at the market.) The thing is, in the gardening department, I’m still a neophyte, and try as I might, I haven’t been able to get a straight answer from other gardeners on how to tell when my stripey Carnival and Delicata squash are ripe.

I’ve been told to wait for the stems to wither and dry up on the vine (uh-oh, I am not that patient),  and I’ve been told to look for a good spot of orange color on the underside  (this didn’t hold true when I cut into the one with color–the one in the bowl in the top photo). But I am beginning to suspect that it is, in fact, a color issue. I looked at pictures of Carnival squash online this morning, and they all had an orange hue on at least half of their surface. And I remember someone telling me a while back that Delicatas are ripe when the green stripes have an orange hue beneath them. So, if you’re color blind (or impatient, like you-know-who), I don’t suggest growing winter squash.

All is not lost, despite my stubborn “I’m going to get this darn thing in the oven anyway” approach yesterday. First, I have more squash in the garden (still ripening, theoretically). Second, I can, in fact, give you quick and easy directions for simple, delicious (unstuffed) roasted acorn squash halves, if you are smarter than me and actually buy your (ripe) squash at the grocery store. (Directions below.) And lastly, if you’ve got a copy of Fast, Fresh & Green on hand, you can turn to page 51 for my absolute favorite acorn squash recipe—Vanilla and Cardamom Glazed Acorn Squash Rings.

And if you don’t have a copy of Fast, Fresh & Green, you’d better get one! The third printing hit last week, and if it’s anything like the first two, copies will be scarce again soon.


Simple Roasted Acorn Squash Halves

Heat the oven to 400° F. With a very sharp knife, cut a thin sliver off of both ends of the acorn squash, and then cut it in half crosswise. (Cutting the slivers off the ends will help each half sit flat in the baking vessel, rather than rolling around.) Line a shallow baking dish or small heavy sheet pan with foil or parchment paper and arrange the halves in it. Sprinkle them with salt. For each acorn squash you are baking, combine 1 ½ tablespoons of unsalted butter with 1 ½ tablespoons of maple syrup and a small squeeze of lemon (or dash of balsamic vinegar or soy sauce) in a small saucepan. Heat until the butter melts, stir, and brush all over the squash halves. Most of the liquid will pool in the center of the squash; that’s okay—just be sure that you’ve brushed the tops. Bake until very tender and nicely browned, about 1 hour and 10 minutes for a small acorn squash, 10 to 15 minutes more for a larger squash. Baste occasionally if you like. Serve warm as a side dish, one half per person.