There are a lot of things I dread about winter in the Midwest – the blistering cold, the reckless use of road salt (destroyer of fine leather shoes and cars), the way it's pitch black by 4:30 in the afternoon.
But there's a lot to love too – the holidays, a good seasonal wardrobe, and the transition to warm, hearty comfort foods.
With winter squash in season during the cooler months, I thought it only appropriate to share some of my favorite recipes for preparing some delicious winter squash that will scratch the itch for comfort food but don't require gravy!
Squash are nutritional powerhouses, rich in Vitamins A and C, full of fiber, and so low in calories that it's almost impossible to overeat.
And should you partake in some of the obligatory gorging that is customary around the holiday season, enjoying some low-calorie squash-based meals can help you offset the damage.
They can be great for guys on low-carb diets (depending on the winter squash you're eating) or those simply looking to pack in more whole foods. You can't go wrong.
Spaghetti squash with beef marinara
If you've never made spaghetti squash, be prepared to be amazed.
Like its namesake, when baked, spaghetti squash literally becomes spaghetti.
This squash has a mild flavor that's a bit starchy, almost potato-like, and produces piles and piles of crunchy, stringy strands that will stand up to the chunkiest of sauces.
And not only is this recipe a cinch to make, it's a low-carb dieter's dream!
A cup of spaghetti squash “noodles” comes in around 40 calories and consists 0 g fat, 10 g carbs, and 1 g protein.
Compare that to roughly 200 calories for a cup of wheat-based pasta and you have some significant nutritional savings if you're sitting down to a substantial meal (which for me is at least 3 cups of pasta).
With stats like that, we're talking about the same size portion of pasta for 120 calories versus 600 calories!
When I make this recipe, I eat an entire half of the squash and also use it as its own bowl. That just adds to the fun factor a little bit.
- 1 spaghetti squash
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 lb ground beef
- garlic powder
- 1 jar pasta sauce (I usually opt for one without high fructose corn syrup and with extra veggies)
Spaghetti Squash Preparation
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F
- Cut the spaghetti squash in half longways and scoop out the seeds.
- Place on a baking sheet and rub the flesh of the squash with olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper.
- Bake for 45 minutes or until tender.
- Once baked, remove the squash from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.
- To make noodles, scrape with a fork longways to loosen the strands.
While your squash is baking:
- In a large sauce pan, cook the ground beef over medium heat and season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and oregano.
- Once browned, add the entire jar of pasta sauce to the meat and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes.
- When the squash is done, top your noodles with the meat sauce and enjoy!
Slow-cooker butternut squash soup
This may be winter's perfect soup.
It's rich, creamy, equal parts sweet and savory, and just a little spicy.
In terms of sheer volume, this soup consists almost exclusively of produce. So if you have trouble getting in your veggies, look no further!
I've made several variations of this recipe and I think this one is the best. This combination of ingredients seems to be ideal in elevating the butternut squash as the star of the show.
Through trial and error, I've also found a couple of inexpensive tools that make preparing this soup (and other dishes) quick and easy. You may already have these on hand, but if not, these are excellent items to have in the kitchen – soup or no soup.
(Missing from this photo – nutmeg and minced garlic)
- OXO Good Grips Y Peeler – this peeler makes quick (safe) work of the thick, stubborn skin of winter squash.
- Cuisinart Conair Smart Stick – this immersion blender creates a perfectly smooth, creamy soup and has tons of uses.
- Crock-pot 7-quart Oval Manual Slow Cooker – if you need to cook frequently, a Crock-pot is a must-have.
- 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded, and cut into approx. 1-inch cubes
- 2 small to medium carrots, thinly sliced (about 1/8th inch)
- 1 medium to large granny smith apple, cored and diced
- 1 small/medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 tsp minced garlic (or 2 cloves)
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1 tsp each of salt and paprika
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- 2 dashes cayenne
- Peel, de-seed/core, and dice butternut squash, carrots, apple, and onion (as appropriate).
- Toss all diced produce, garlic, seasonings, and vegetable broth into your slow cooker. Cover with the lid.
- Cook on high for 6 to 8 hours until squash and carrots are fairly tender.
- After veggies are soft, remove the inner dish from your slow cooker and allow your soup to cool with the lid off for about 15 minutes.
- Use an immersion blender (moving in circular and up-down motions) to blend the contents of your slow cooker into a smooth, creamy soup and serve it up hot.
This soup goes great when paired next to a big sandwich on hearty, whole grain bread!
Acorn squash dessert
Ok, so this isn't like a real dessert your grandmother would make, but it's a decent alternative if abs are the priority.
This dish is sweet and satisfying in the same way that a baked sweet potato with cinnamon and sweetener is.
As an added bonus, your house will smell like pure fall time while this is in the oven!
NOTE: I've made this recipe with and without the sugar and butter and it's delicious either way. If you really don't want the added sugar and fat, just sprinkle with cinnamon, bake, and add a small amount of Splenda or Stevia before eating.
- 1 acorn squash
- 2 tsp butter
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp maple syrup
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
- Cut acorn squash in half, top to bottom, and scoop out the seeds.
- Use a paring knife to score the flesh of the squash with a crosshatch pattern, about 1/2-inch deep.
- On each side of the squash, smear 1 tsp butter, drizzle 1 tsp maple syrup, and sprinkle 1 Tbsp brown sugar (with a generous portion of the sugar crumbled in the center).
- Bake for 1 hour, or until tender.
- When finished, remove from the oven and spoon the warm syrup over the entire acorn squash.
- Let cool for 5 minutes and enjoy
If you've never made squash before, I hope I've inspired you to dive in and treat yourself to some sweet or savory, squash-based comfort foods.
You could even try your hand at serving up rich butternut squash soup or sweet acorn squashes during the holidays.
And for my readers in America, I want to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving. Get ready to eat big!
All the best,