There are a number of different ways to cook squash, ranging from stir fries to roasts, and depending on what type of squash you have to hand. Many squashes are rich in vitamins and minerals, making them a great addition to the diet, and squash is also quite flavorful and versatile.
Before you cook squash, it is important to know what kind of squash you are working with. Summer squash is young and very tender, and it can be eaten whole and even raw. Some examples of summer squash are: crookneck squash, zucchini, and pattypan squash. Winter squash, on the other hand, is larger and more mature with a very thick rind, and it must be cooked before consumption. The rind of winter squash is also not edible. Some examples of winter squash include: acorn squash, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, buttercup squash, and hubbard squash, among others. One major advantage of winter squash is that it keeps well, so you can obtain fresh squash year round.
If you want to cook summer squash, you have a number of options, but the important thing to remember is that light cooking is the way to go, as summer squash can turn mushy if overcooked. You can use the squash raw on appetizer platters or in salads, or you can lightly saute it and eat it plain or toss it with pasta. Summer squash can also be steamed and served with a variety of sauces and toppings, baked into quiches and frittatas, and added to stir fries and other mixed vegetable dishes. Summer squash can also be used in savory quickbreads like zucchini bread, or used to make chutneys.
Larger summer squash, which tends to be tougher, can be hollowed out and stuffed with rice and mixed vegetables before being baked. Squash can also be battered and deep fried, or added to soups at the last minute for additional texture and flavor. Squash blossoms are also perfectly edible, for those who happen to have access to them. Fried squash blossoms, for example, are a delicacy in Italy in the summer.
In the case of winter squash, a longer cooking time is needed to fully cook squash. The cooking time can be an advantage, as winter squash will not fall apart in curries, stews, and other long-cooked dishes as readily as summer squash does. When you cook squash in these dishes, you can either add it in at the beginning and allow it to fully absorb flavor, or you can parbroil it and add it at the end.
To cook squash for the purpose of plain eating or inclusion in a recipe like a pureed soup, you can steam or boil the winter squash, but baking is often much more effective. Whatever cooking technique you use, the squash should be halved so that the seeds can be removed, and then poked several times with a fork. Winter squash will take around an hour to cook, and it is done when a fork can easily penetrate the squash. For added flavor in squash you intend to eat right out of the oven, you can stuff the squash at the start of cooking, or dress it with bacon, cheese, and other ingredients around halfway through the cooking process.
Plain baked winter squash can be quite tasty, but winter squash can also be used in other creative ways. Spaghetti squash, for example, can be eaten just like regular spaghetti, with a range of sauces. Cubed squash can be parboiled and added to curries, stir fries, and similar dishes for more texture, while pureed winter squash makes a great soup base. Pumpkin, a famous winter squash, also makes an excellent pie filling, as many people are aware.