Genius Recipes

The Squash-Roasting Step Ottolenghi Always Skips

Ottolenghi's done this in every single cookbook—why haven’t we?

October 30, 2019

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


How many times have our recipes asked us to peel, halve, seed, hold our breath, and cube a butternut squash, as if the stiff hourglass were as easy to slide a knife through as a block of tofu (and we were all in a peak state to cube-ify at the end of a long day)?

There’s even a cottage industry of hacks for making this prep work easier, including microwaving the whole wobbly thing or dousing it in boiling water to help coax the peel off (1).

But here’s the easiest way to peel a butternut squash: Don’t.

Photo by JULIA GARTLAND. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG. PROP STYLIST: AMANDA WIDIS.

“Generally, if I'm roasting a squash I won't bother peeling it first,” Yotam Ottolenghi, chef, cookbook author, and vegetable shepherd, wrote to me. “Butternut squash skin is actually incredibly delicious when roasted as it gets quite sticky and chewy in a way I particularly enjoy.”

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“Then slice in half from the top down, take out the seeds and then slice the squash in melon style slices about 1/4 " thick , next grate some fresh ginger into a large bowl, add olive oil, s&p toss the squash pieces in the bowl till coated and roast in a sheet baking pan for about 30min at 400*. Voila!! the most delicious squash slices you've ever had !!! You can roast a 425* for a shorter time and get slight dark edges on the slices, just as delicious. Enjoy ”
— Sandra D.
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When our executive producer Gabriella Mangino mentioned this genius tip to me, I sent myself a note to look into “the Ottolenghi recipe where he doesn’t peel the squash.” But after rabbit-holing in our cookbook library at Food52 one morning, I found that—aside from his desserts book with Helen Goh, Sweetevery single one of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks features at least one gorgeous, warm salad-y side where he serves the squash unpeeled.

His prep is casual, and decidedly not cubed. Instead, he hacks the squash into big chunks, tips them so their skin leans against the hot sheet pan, and roasts them till they blister and brown. All that varies are the co-stars. In Ottolenghi: burnt eggplant and pomegranate molasses; in Plenty: sweet spices, lime, and green chile. Jerusalem? Red onion with tahini and za'atar. NOPI? Ginger tomatoes and lime yogurt.

And the combination in Plenty More—perhaps even simpler than Simple’s lentils and Dolcelatte cheese—is the recipe I’m sharing here: topped with a quick cilantro sauce (or insert-your-favorite-herb-here sauce, for the cilantrophobes), sriracha yogurt (aka sriracha + yogurt), and crunchy toasted pepitas. It will be bright and welcome on a Thanksgiving table and perhaps even more so as we crawl deeper into winter.

But I hope you won’t stop with this recipe. Take this intel to every winter squash recipe you’re tackling, butternut or otherwise: If you really want a supersmooth texture, like in a soup or mash, fine—peel it, though Ottolenghi recommends doing so after cooking, when the peels have naturally loosened. But if you’re just looking for hunks to anchor a salad or side dish, embrace the skins as he so clearly has.

I will offer one caveat: If your squash looks like it’s been hiding out in storage for months or is extremely difficult to carve through, you should probably avoid wrestling with it at all (2). I learned this the hard way years ago when trying to serve a dinner party some weathered delicata squash, formerly known as “the one kind you don’t have to peel.” The skins were so grizzled and chalky we had to pick them up and eat the slices like ribs.

But for the vast majority of the squash kingdom, our lives just got simpler and, in all honesty, more delicious. The skin is now my favorite part, taut and smooth to offset the steamy, molten middles; much like a steak with a good crust or ice cream capped with Magic Shell, the competing texture is what we crave. Leave it to Ottolenghi to teach us new ways to find it.

(1) Thanks to Natalie Cruz for this easier squash-peeling tip, which I will turn to next time I’m trying a recipe that really won’t let me off the hook.

(2) Instead, for puree you don’t have to wrestle for, halve the squash and roast it cut-side-down (seeds and all). The seeds and guts will spoon out more easily after cooking—a tip I learned from Food52er AntoniaJames!

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to Gabriella Mangino for this one!

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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

59 Comments

Андрей М. November 14, 2019
Приготовил дома и получилось очень вкусно! Теперь снимать кожуру на тыкве не буду! ))) Спасибо! Посмотрите что у меня получилось тут - https://zen.yandex.ru/media/kaleidoscope/probuem-vmeste-teplyi-salat-iz-zapechennoi-tykvy-so-smetanoi-i-sousom-iz-kinzy-5dccd6e913aa6c3a624801c4
 
A.S. November 3, 2019
It's always shocking to me how much edible stuff people just assume is trash. Especially in this day and age of "food experts".
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 4, 2019
It's easy to assume something's not edible (or at least not easily so) when so many recipes say to peel or discard, but, happily, chefs, authors, and home cooks are all getting a lot more conscientious about this.
 
Susan A. November 3, 2019
I always use a mallet to make the knife or cleaver go through, it makes it go quickly and is far less dangerous to the cook.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 4, 2019
Now I'm in the market for a mallet!
 
marie November 1, 2019
Buy it already cut up at Trader Joes!!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 4, 2019
That's a very handy option in a pinch, but it's also more expensive, so I find it empowering to know the easiest ways to do it myself.
 
Sib November 1, 2019
Random question.....do you sell the gray cutting board behind you on the counter?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 4, 2019
Good eye! I'm checking in with our Shop team. Back with you shortly.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 4, 2019
In fact, we do! https://food52.com/shop/products/4550-ash-round-bread-board
 
Diane October 31, 2019
I always roast my butternut squash with the skin on, however, I always peeled it prior to serving. I never thought the skin was eatable. I will have to give it a try.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 4, 2019
Let us know what you think!
 
rbrock1225 October 31, 2019
When I need roasted winter squash as an ingredient, I put it on a pan and poke several holes in it. I'll usually poke the holes with a paring knife although I've also used an old ice pick. Make sure you poke through to the area where the seeds are. My theory is that like potatoes, I don't want to take a risk on anything exploding in the oven. Then I bake in a 325-350 df oven until it's fork tender.

At that point it cuts into halves very easily. I scoop out the seeds and save if I want them. The outer skin peels off easily. The pulp can then be cut up, or pureed, or mashed with another vegetable. Btw, a mixture of Yukon Gold potatoes & winter squash mashed as you would just potatoes (butter & milk, ...) gives you a beautiful option on your Thanksgiving dinner plate and is a sneaky way to get little kids to eat squash.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 4, 2019
Love the Yukon Gold addition!
 
acecil October 31, 2019
I’ll try this; it may be great. But if you want to peel your butternut squash... a simple trick is to poke a few holes in the skin with a fork then microwave the thing whole for about 2 minutes and then peel. It is so much easier!!
 
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Kristen M. November 4, 2019
Thanks, acecil! The fork-poking sounds important.
 
Tazhart October 30, 2019
Another way roast whole than slice in half and chucks add olive oil and spices and back in oven. Just make sure wash well first
 
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Kristen M. November 4, 2019
Thanks, Tazhart!
 
Patricia W. October 30, 2019
I made a recipe he printed in the NYT two weeks ago where the instructions were to peel butternut squash before roasting with onions for a filo encrusted ‘fondue’
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 4, 2019
Well, that sounds incredible.
 
Marie F. October 30, 2019
To halve a squash, take a cleaver and place it on the squash where you want to split it, then take a mallet and pound the cleaver until the squash splits in half. Learned that from Alton Brown.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 4, 2019
Clearly I need to get a good cleaver!
 
Sandra D. October 30, 2019
A few tricks for kabocha squash is to cut the stem and bottom center out first. Then slice in half from the top down, take out the seeds and then slice the squash in melon style slices about 1/4 " thick , next grate some fresh ginger into a large bowl, add olive oil, s&p toss the squash pieces in the bowl till coated and roast in a sheet baking pan for about 30min at 400*. Voila!! the most delicious squash slices you've ever had !!! You can roast a 425* for a shorter time and get slight dark edges on the slices, just as delicious. Enjoy
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 4, 2019
Love the ginger idea. Thanks!
 
Barbara October 30, 2019
I never peel anything. Someone once told me that the skins hold so many vitamins that I stop peeling everything.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 4, 2019
I really resist peeling myself.
 
Therese S. October 30, 2019
I grew up with roasted acorn squash that wasn't peeled. Cut in half, seeds and stringies removed, roasted with butter and brown sugar in the center. Candy in a vegetable form.
 
thatgirl October 30, 2019
Still how I handle Acorn squash--scoop and eat!
 
AngiePanda October 30, 2019
Same here...I still do it that way but I add some Moroccan seasoning and it turns out even better, if you can believe that!
 
Patricia October 30, 2019
My grandma always made it that way, but added marshmallows and roasted them. I added nuts and sometimes pineapple to that .. yum! 😋
 
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Kristen M. November 4, 2019
Yum. It really is candy in vegetable form, but so much more interesting. I roasted a stripetti squash last night with only a little olive oil and it tasted so much like honey.
 
hmship October 30, 2019
I never peel or seed squash anymore when I roast it. The seeds get nice and crunchy and I find the skin delicious. This works for any winter squash.
 
TXExpatInBKK October 30, 2019
What about the stringy bits around the seeds? How do they come out after roasting?
 
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Kristen M. November 4, 2019
Love it. Also curious about the stringy bits!
 
Jan October 30, 2019
Jam your squash in the drain of your sink & attack with your heaviest, sharpest knife. I split it in two, then go for chunks or slices once I get it halved & seeded.
 
thatgirl October 30, 2019
Novel!
 
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Kristen M. November 4, 2019
Intriguing!
 
Carol E. October 30, 2019
The peeling isn't the problem. Cutting up a butternut squash is beyond me. Too hard! I should get a hatchet? A chainsaw? Toss it in the oven & bake till it explodes? Trader Joe's has precut chunks this time of year. I'll stick with that.
 
thatgirl October 30, 2019
Key peeling squash is a good, sharp peeler; they're no different than knives. I recommend the OXO peeler, which has a great blade, can be re-sharpened.

Try this with butternut squash: wash the skin thoroughly with hot water and a bit of dish soap. Even if you're peeling the skin, you don't want to cut into a dirty squash! then cut off the top and bottom ends so you have something that can stand on its own. Then cut away the round/bulbous part of the squash from the longer bit so you have two pieces. This is when I peel both, because having cut into the squash, you now have a reliable edge against which you can begin peeling. I do in long strips, from top flat slide to bottom flat side.

Or you cut each of these larger pieces in half from flat side to flat side. Scoop the seeds and pulp from the bulbous side, then peel as mentioned.

Perhaps this takes more time, but you can prep it ahead and refrigerate or freeze for later, and it's cheaper than pre-peeled and seeded parts.

Try it!
 
thatgirl October 30, 2019
Ugh--no "edit" option here. Meant to say, "Key to peeling squash..."
 
Lazyretirementgirl October 30, 2019
I put it whole into the crockpot on low for a few hours and then butcher it.
 
thatgirl October 30, 2019
Sadly, no carmelized bits in that method, or ability to roast it with other veg.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 4, 2019
I hear you, Carol. I heard from Natalie Cruz (linked above) that letting the squash sit in boiled water for a few minutes makes it much easier to slice, but I haven't tried it yet.
 
Carol E. November 4, 2019
Clearly I am not the only squash wimp, but it never occurred to me to experiment. Wadge it down the sink! Hit it with a mallet! Thanks for all the creative work-arounds! (Buying a whole butternut squash next.)
 
Anne October 30, 2019
Does this work with other squashes, too? Acorn? Kabocha? etc?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 4, 2019
Yep! I shared a caveat above, which is that if the squash is extremely hard to slice through, it will probably not soften much in roasting.
 
Stubor October 30, 2019
Ignorant comment here, how about roasting the squash seeds in place of the pepitas, which are pumpkin seeds, right?
 
Nessa J. October 30, 2019
I imagine that since the seeds haven’t been hulled, they might not be ideal...but they can’t be horrible! May want to shell them while you eat.
 
thatgirl October 30, 2019
They're more fine than pumpkin seeds, but sure--try it and watch 'em carefully!
 
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Kristen M. November 4, 2019
Not ignorant! Rhonda35 over on the recipe page did just this with acorn squash.
 
thatgirl October 30, 2019
Ditto on the Delicata! But I've had just-picked Delicata, and no matter what, the skin is tough when roasted--whether that be high or low-temp roasting.

It bears saying, because the roast-skin issue subject came up at a CSA distribution I manage: Whether you roast and peel or roast and eat squash skin--no matter how organic the source--wash that skin thoroughly with soap (at least) and hot water! Squash gets heavy when ripe, often hits the ground, or is put on the ground or in a vessel on a farm with animals. E. coli is more common than anyone wants to admit!
 
jpriddy October 30, 2019
I often roast delicata squash for pumpkin custard in the oven with water in a pan below to make it a little bit steamy. After roasting, the skin is soft enough that I puree it for custard of "pumpkin" pie, and it's perfectly smooth.
 
thatgirl October 30, 2019
Good points, but that would add a longer step to recipes that claim you can roast the Delicata with other vegetables together in the same pan--recipes that propose a carmelized edge to the squash.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 4, 2019
Excellent tips, both of you—thank you!