Why You Should Cook a Whole Dang Squash in Your Slow Cooker

This week's Set It & Forget It recipe from Rebecca Firkser: a winter wonder of a side dish with crunch, chew, and more.

December 27, 2019
Photo by Julia Gartland. Food Stylist: Kate Buckens. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Welcome to Set It & Forget It, a series about all the ways we rely on our slow cookers, Instant Pots, and ovens during the colder months. Whether it’s a long braise on the stove or a quick burst in the pressure cooker, one thing’s for sure: Comfort food means comfort cooking.

The humble winter squash is a beloved cold-weather staple, but when was the last time you changed up your cooking method for those butternuts and acorns? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve slid a tray of oiled and salted wedges into the oven for roasting, pureed cubes into soup, stirred a puree into a dip or batter. Were the results of those squash-y endeavors a delight to eat? Of course. Still, none excites me in a way I want to write home about, as they say.

When it comes to methods of cooking this type of tough, thick-skinned produce, a slow cooker may not be your first thought; in fact, the machine is an ingenious way to cook a whole squash. Plus, it’s almost entirely hands-off. When plopped into a Crock-Pot (truly, that’s all you do—no oil, no salt, nothing!), the flesh of the squash cooks gently, yielding a super-creamy texture and barely any mess. Slice it open, scoop out the seeds and you’re home free.

By the way, this cooking method applies to any winter squash (kuri, kabocha, honeynut, carnival, 898—I could go on), so head to the farmers market or grocery store and see what you can find. There’s so much more out there than butternut, folks!

At this point, you can mash or puree the squash flesh or slice it into whichever shape pleases you, toss it with your favorite seasonings and move on with your life.

But you came here for a recipe didn’t you? I get it. When it comes to squash cooked so tender it slices like butter, I want to pair it with nothing but texture: chewy and crunchy, to be exact. Chew will arrive in the form of spelt, a nutty whole grain similar to farro; deeply toasted hazelnuts or pecans deliver the crunch.

I’ll address the elephant in the room: This isn’t a one-pot meal. You’ll need to use your stove and oven in addition to your slow cooker here, but this is not to drive up your blood pressure. Every component of this recipe can actually be prepared in advance, so all you need to do day of is plug in your slow cooker. Nuts can be toasted more than a month in advance if stored in a sealed container in the fridge, and grains can be boiled, drained, and packaged up for a week, as can the simple miso-maple dressing (really, that can hang out for longer if you want).

The day you plan to make this dish, plop a squash in your slow cooker, set the timer for 6 hours on low (3 on high) and go about your day. Hit the gym, go out for coffee, mow the lawn, I don’t know. But I do know that once you’ve set it, you really can forget it.

Once the squash is cooked, slice it into wedges and top it with the cooked grains (tossed with a pile of herbs), toasty nuts, and tangy-sweet dressing. Bring it all home with blops of creamy, salty feta, and a shower of Aleppo pepper.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kathryn Porterfield 1
    Kathryn Porterfield 1
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  • Rebecca Firkser
    Rebecca Firkser
Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. These days, you can keep your eye out for her monthly budget recipe column, Nickel & Dine. Rebecca tests all recipes with Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.


Kathryn P. January 5, 2020
In the slow cooker with no liquid at all?
Rebecca F. January 5, 2020
Correct, no liquid!
Rhonda35 December 28, 2019
I can't wait to try this!