Never wrestle with an unwieldy squash again with our step-by-step guide, including top tips to cut through tough flesh and make peeling a piece of cake...
Seasonal, healthy and wonderfully versatile, squash is an essential ingredient in many savoury and sweet dishes. However, with thick skins, hard flesh and an array of awkward shapes, it's easy to be put off if you've never prepared one before. With our cookery team's top tips, you never need struggle with a stubborn squash again...
This method will also suit all varieties of squash and smaller pumpkins, however thick their skin may be.
1. Hold the squash steady on a board (for bigger ones, a damp cloth placed underneath can stop it from slipping around). Using a sharp knife, trim off both ends. Cut it in half through the middle. If the skin is tough, hold a large knife on top of the squash, cover the knife and squash with a tea towel and gently hit the back of the knife with something heavy to split it open.
2. Depending on the shape, either support it on its side with your hand or sit it flat on the board. Use a sharp vegetable peeler or sharp knife to peel off the skin. If you're roasting large segments, it's easier to remove the skin after cooking. You don't need to worry about squashes with softer skin - it gets even softer with cooking.
3. Cut in half or quarters, then scoop out the insides with a spoon. The squash is now ready to slice, dice or chop.
For a tall squash
Put a tea towel under your chopping board to stop it from sliding. Chop off the top and bottom of the squash. Peel or slice away the skin. Chop through the 'neck' of the squash to leave two pieces and slice both in half lengthways. Use an ice cream scoop to scrape out the seeds.
Buy the best
While the fluoro-orange pumpkins you’ll see piled in every supermarket are ideal for doorstep lanterns, their flesh can often be watery and lack flavour. Off-cuts from carving can be bulked out with onions and carrots to make soup or will bolster a stew, but if pumpkin or squash is the star of the dish, it’s worth paying a little extra for much more flavour. Look out for different varieties of squash in supermarkets or at farmers’ markets, where the choice is often better. All pumpkins and squashes should feel heavy for their size, and have smooth, unblemished skin. Hard-skinned pumpkins and squashes will keep for two months in a cool, dark place – once cut, store in the fridge for a week or two.
Different types of squash
This plump, orange squash has all the splendour of Cinderella's carriage, with the sweetness of a butternut. The skin can be a little tough, so remove it before cooking. Delicious simply roasted.
Crown prince squash
A good all-rounder, this is our pick of the pumpkin patch. A large squash with dense, sweet and nutty flesh. The steely-blue skin will retain a chewy bite when roasted.
A small squash with dark green skin, often shaped like its namesake. The flesh is soft and sweet once cooked - great for mashing or roasting whole. Try stuffing it with rice, nuts and spices.
An amber coloured, often tiger-striped, variety of butternut squash with a similar texture, but sweeter, more intense flavour. Perfect in desserts, like pumpkin pie. The seeds are too tough to eat.
This Japanese squash has a fluffy texture once baked. The tough green skin turns deep amber once fully ripe, and will soften as it cooks. Traditionally cooked as vegetable tempura, but just as good in soup or simply roasted.
Now put it to use!
So, now you know how to select, buy and prepare your squash, it's time for a little culinary inspiration. Here are a few of our favourite squash recipes:
What are your top tips for preparing squash? We'd love to hear them - let us know in the comments below...