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Winter squash: Here’s how to cook with it for Thanksgiving

Butternut, acorn, spaghetti can all bring big flavor to the holiday table.

From acorn to butternut, spaghetti to delicata, don’t underestimate winter squash to deliver big flavor to your Thanksgiving table.

Squash is super versatile, able to be roasted or steamed, cubed or pureed in a variety of recipes that can play well with your holiday standards. We’re sharing three ideas for Thanksgiving sides. And for more on winter squash, we turned to Patrick Mills, director of produce for Lucky’s Market, which has one location in the bay area, at 6765 22nd Ave. N in St. Petersburg.

Do any varieties grow in Florida, or is that reserved for cooler climates?

Most squash varieties are grown in colder climates – mainly North Carolina up to Michigan. Hard shell winter squash varieties are not grown in Florida. Zucchini squash and yellow squash are grown locally in Florida, so look for an abundance of these.

When is the season for this kind of squash?

Peak season for squash is in the fall, and the season ends in late January.

Can all winter squash be cooked the same?

Fall and winter squash varieties can typically be cooked in similar ways ― some can be cubed and used in puree forms (like soup), but most squash is cooked in its shell and either steamed or baked.

What are some key differences between popular varieties like butternut and acorn?

Butternut squash has a smoother texture and is less stringy than acorn squash. This is why butternut squash is a very good option for puree and soups. Babies love it, too.

For someone who has never cooked with whole winter squash, what do they need to know?

Always remove seeds from the cavity before cooking and don’t drown the squash in brown sugar and butter. The natural sweet flavors of squash are amazing and often best enjoyed in their organic state. The Instant Pot craze is currently huge, and we know many people are pressure-cooking whole mini pie pumpkins and hard shell squashes to a perfect consistency. Spaghetti squash is an amazing alternative to pasta, so we’ve seen this grow in popularity, too.

What are your favorite ways to prepare winter squash?

I love spaghetti squash. Start by slicing it in half lengthwise. Then I put it flesh facing down in a glass baking pan with half of an inch of water. I cover the top of the baking pan in foil and bake for 45 minutes. When cooked, I loosen up all the squash in the shell and add ground turkey, a few Italian flat beans, sauteed kale and veggies, and then top with a hint of Parmesan cheese. Next, I bake it uncovered for 15 minutes. Yum.

RELATED: Why you absolutely should be roasting your vegetables

Creamy Squash Gratin

2 large butternut squash (4 pounds total) — peeled, halved, seeded and sliced ½ inch thick

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 ½ teaspoons coarsely chopped thyme


Freshly ground black pepper

1 large white onion, thinly sliced

3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon coarsely chopped oregano

½ cup heavy cream

¾ cup sour cream

8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded

8 ounces goat cheese

Toasted pumpkin seeds, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Brush the butternut squash with 6 tablespoons of the olive oil and spread it on 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the thyme and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes, until the squash is tender, shifting the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the sliced onion, garlic, oregano and the remaining ½ teaspoon of thyme and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Add the heavy cream and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the sour cream and season the mixture with salt and pepper.

Spoon half of the mixture into a large baking dish and top with half of the butternut squash and half of the cheeses. Repeat with the remaining mixture, butternut squash and both cheeses. Bake in the center of the oven for about 30 minutes, until the gratin is golden and bubbling. Let the gratin rest for 10 minutes. Garnish with the pumpkin seeds and serve.

Source: Adapted from Food & Wine

Ginger Roasted Squash

½ cup water

¼ cup sugar

½ cup red wine vinegar

1 cinnamon stick

¼ cup raisins

2 ½ pounds acorn squash, halved and seeded

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Coarse sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled

2 tablespoons sour cream

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a small saucepan, combine the water with the sugar, vinegar and cinnamon stick and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the raisins and simmer for 3 minutes, then remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Rub the squash with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Using a fine grater, grate the ginger over the cut sides of the squash and rub it into the flesh.

Transfer the squash to the prepared baking sheet, cut side down, and roast for about 15 minutes, until the squash starts to soften. Turn the squash cut side up and roast for about 17 minutes longer, until tender; transfer to a work surface and let cool slightly.

Increase the oven temperature to 425. Cut the squash into 1 ½-inch-thick wedges. Lightly rub the foil with oil and arrange the squash on the baking sheet; roast for about 25 minutes, turning once halfway through, until golden and crisp along the edges.

Arrange the squash on a platter. Discard the cinnamon stick from the mixture in saucepan. Drizzle over squash. Serve with sour cream.

Source: Adapted from Food & Wine

Mashed Winter Squash

2 pounds butternut, acorn or honeynut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes


Freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons butter

Couple sprigs of fresh thyme

Pinch of cinnamon

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put squash cubes in a shallow, wide baking dish. Season with salt and pepper and toss with hands to coat. Pour water in, to a depth of about 1 inch. Dot surface with butter, top with thyme sprigs and cover dish tightly with foil.

Bake, covered, until squash is tender, about 1 hour. Remove thyme sprigs. Crush squash to a rough consistency with a potato masher or wooden spoon. Stir in cinnamon and maple syrup.

Taste, adjust any seasonings, then serve.

Source: Adapted from the New York Times