I was speaking with another chef, and we came up with a cooking style we described as Passive Cooking. My definition, if it needs one, is cooking with the least effort, saving the chef’s time.
I feel that historically, humans could not have spent as much time in the kitchen as we do now. They had to scrub laundry by hand and walk to get places. We are lucky to live in a world where many things are easy and time-saving.
But we are still busy, and we can take advantage of cooking methods that take the work out of the job.
While I write this, I can do a load of laundry and cook a butternut squash without looking at either.
Winter squash grows through the summer, and it stores well because of its tough skin. Commercial storage has made squash available year-round, because of controlled refrigeration conditions, but when you eat food in season, you can enjoy the flavor at its peak.
There are many types of winter squash, each with their attributes, from stringy spaghetti squash to sweet and dry butternut. Winter squash can be cross-pollinated with other squash species, so it has been easy for plant breeders to optimize the best plant and fruit characteristics that farmers and eaters prefer.
So, here is the easy way to cook one. Turn on your over to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and put the squash on a pan and put it in the oven, no need to preheat, it’s going to be there for an hour and a half. After that time, open the oven and press down on the outside of the squash, it’s hot, so be careful, and it should be soft, and there will be a dent where you touched it.
Now take it out of the oven and let it cool. Later on, 30 minutes to a few hours, you can cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Gently scoop out the flesh without getting any of the skin. If you are cooking spaghetti squash, use a fork instead of a spoon to separate the strings while you pull them out.
After cooking, refrigerate the squash flesh to use later or turn it into a meal right away. For spaghetti squash I recommend, sautéing some chopped garlic in butter or olive oil over medium heat and then adding a teaspoon or two (total) of herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme, dried or fresh, whatever you have on hand. Then add the squash strings and stir gently to coat, season with salt and fresh ground pepper, and then top with some grated Parmesan cheese if you like.
If you cooked butternut squash, you can add butter and salt, mash and eat.
You can also try making a soup. In a large pot sauté in butter or oil an onion and a red pepper coarsely chopped (big chunks are okay), spicy peppers are good too if you like, then add some oregano and add in two to four cups of your butternut squash flesh. (vary the quantity based on how much soup you want to make). Add water to just cover and a half teaspoon of salt. Let it come to a boil and then simmer for five minutes. Puree everything with an immersion blender until combined. If you don’t have an immersion blender, the easiest thing to do would be to mash everything together with a potato masher, if you have one, or the back of a spoon should work. It will be chunkier but taste great. If you want to get fancy and you eat dairy products, add a dollop of sour cream.
I never cooked a winter squash until I was at least 30, so I understand if you are not quite sure where to start. Winter squashes are accessible and approachable, even if you don’t have a heavy-duty 10-inch chef’s knife to hack into one when it is raw. Cook the squash whole and then cut it up after it’s cooked. Don’t make life any harder than it is.
Julie Moreno is a chef and writer, now trying to get more people to cook their own food and understand where it comes from. She lives in the middle of California, where she’s learning to landscape with fruits and vegetables. Find her blog at The Wooden Cutting Board on Twitter @juliehouse and Facebook @thewoodencuttingboard