Squash 101: How to pick, cut, and cook the popular veggie

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- If you've been to the grocery store lately, you probably noticed the inventory of squash is pretty plentiful.

From how to pick, to the best way to cut, and even recipes to cook, Marci Sharif, the Author of Nourishing Your Whole Self - A Cookbook with Feelings has us covered with some squash 101.

"What you're looking for is a matte finish - you don't want it glossy on the top. When you pick it up, you want it to be heavy for its weight, and for the most part, the color is uniform. There will be one spot that is discolored from where it was resting on the floor," explains Sharif.

Sharif says squash works for all the courses - appetizers to dessert.

Butternut Squash Soup
With butternut squash, you can cut off the ends and peel with a vegetable peeler.

8 cloves garlic, separated but unpeeled
2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 leeks, finely chopped
1 butternut squash, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. Slice off and discard the bottoms (stems) of the garlic cloves. Place the unpeeled cloves on a sheet of foil, and bake for 20 minutes, until soft. Afterward, let them cool for 5-10 minutes, then peel.

  3. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.

  4. Add the roasted garlic, squash, broth and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 15-20 minutes.

  5. Carefully puree the soup with an immersion blender, or standard blender in batches. Reheat the soup as necessary.

  6. Top with freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serves 4.

From Nourishing Your Whole Self: A Cookbook with Feelings by Marci Izard, 2015 by Marci Izard, used by permission of the publisher, Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.

Super Spaghetti Squash
"To cut a spaghetti squash, put a little knife in the center, drop a line to the end, rotate it, do the same thing the other way. Then get a big knife to go through that line again, you might need to slam it once to get the knife to go all the way through," explains Sharif.

1 medium spaghetti squash
1/3 cup sliced pitted kalamata olives
1 cup chopped artichoke hearts from a can or jar, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tomatoes, diced
2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. Slice the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds, and place it cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 35-45 minutes.

  3. Once it has cooled, use a fork to scrape the spaghetti-like flesh into a large pot or Dutch oven. Discard the skin. Add the remaining ingredients, except the feta cheese, and heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently.

  4. Lightly stir the feta in before serving. Top with freshly ground black pepper.

Serves 4.
From Nourishing Your Whole Self: A Cookbook with Feelings by Marci Izard, 2015 by Marci Izard, used by permission of the publisher, Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.

Roasted Delicata
"Just slice that baby in half. Scoop out the inside, cut into little pieces, roast with olive oil and salt. It's really good," explains Sharif.

2 small-medium delicata squashes
1 tbsp. olive oil
Coarse salt

  1. Preheat oven to 425.

  2. Wash the squashes. Trim the ends and cut them to be open-faced. Scoop out the seeds. Slice the squash into inch semi-circles (moon-shaped pieces).

  3. Spread the pieces over a foil-lined baking sheet. Toss with oil and salt. Bake 15 minutes, until color starts to change. Flip the squash pieces. Cook another 10-15 minutes until lightly brown.

Serves 2.

Kabocha Pudding
Sharif says for squash that's really hard to cut, like kabocha, this might help. "A trick is to put it in a Ziploc bag, go outside, slam it on the floor, once maybe twice, and it helps to break it apart," says Sharif.

2 cups cooked kabocha squash pulp
2 1/2 cups almond milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
6 tbsp. maple syrup
1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. agar (also called agar agar-a vegetarian gelatin substitute; sold in health food stores)

  1. *To Roast the squash, preheat oven to 400F. Slice the squash in half (or put it in a bag and drop it outside to break it in half/into pieces; use a knife afterwards as needed).

  2. Remove the seeds. Bake, on a foil-lined baking sheet, skin-side up for 50 minutes, until soft when pierced with a fork. Cool the squash then scoop out the flesh and discard the skin.

  3. Add the squash pulp, almond milk, and vanilla to a blender. Pulse until smooth. Transfer mixture to a pot and add the syrup, pumpkin pie spice, and agar. Stir with a wire whisk to combine.

  4. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Allow the mixture to cook for one minute at a light boil, then remove from heat, divide pudding into 6-8 servings, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight to set.

  5. Serve with shaved dark chocolate and whipped cream as desired.

Serves 6-8.

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