Today’s simple roasted butternut squash recipe is one of my family’s favorite seasonal side dishes. I’m going to show you how to make it two ways: Italian or Indian-style. Plus, I’m sharing an easy way to peel and chop a whole butternut squash that won’t make you feel like you’re chopping firewood with a paring knife.
Roasted butternut squash makes a wholesome plant-based side dish for just about any dinner, vegan or not. Once roasted, it can be served right away, or used as an ingredient in curries, soups (I often use it instead of cauliflower in my easy vegan lentil-cauliflower soup), even burritos or tacos.
Butternut squash is naturally on the sweeter side, and the flavor and texture falls somewhere in between sweet potatoes and pumpkin. However, it’s less starchy than sweet potatoes (not that I’m afraid of starches!), and I find it tastier than pumpkin – I’m sure that a lot of you will agree with me here.
A lot of us stay away from butternut squash because it’s quite hard to peel and cut up. If you follow the directions I’ve outlined below, you’ll prep a whole butternut squash by yourself in minutes like it’s no big deal.
Some people buy pre-cut butternut squash in grocery stores to avoid the drama of having to chop it themselves, but we all know that chopped packaged vegetables are more expensive to buy. Plus, those packages sometimes sit on grocery store shelves for a while, so by the time you buy them, the veggies may not be as fresh.
How to Peel and Cube a Butternut Squash Easily (My Secret Trick)
Raw butternut squash is notorious for its thick skin and hard flesh. But there’s a secret to making the peeling and chopping process much easier: you’ve got to use a microwave!
Why do I use a microwave? Pre-cooking the squash in the microwave helps to soften its flesh, so both peeling and chopping will be much easier.
Here’s how I peel and cube a whole butternut squash easily.
First, I rinse the whole squash and pat it dry with a kitchen towel. Then I use a fork to pierce a few holes in its skin. This will help the squash to release steam and/or its juices if any decide to come out during microwaving.
Next, I put the pierced squash into the microwave, and nuke it for about 2 minutes (+ 45-60 seconds if the squash is quite big and thick).
Once the time is up, I carefully remove my butternut squash from the microwave using oven mitts (it’s going to be really hot!), and let it cool off for a few minutes before attempting to peel and cut it.
Once my squash is cool enough to handle, I cut it in half lengthwise using a sharp knife. The bottom bulb-like part contains seeds – I usually scrape them out and discard, but you can save them and use them as a snack just like pumpkin seeds.
After the seeds are scraped out, I cut each half of the squash into three parts crosswise. This yields six parts. Then I peel the thick skin off of each part individually. If you’ve ever tried peeling a raw butternut squash, you’ll notice that quick-microwaved squash is much easier to peel and chop.
Once all six parts of my butternut squash have been peeled, I chop them into cubes of 3/4 – 1 inch size. At this point I either proceed with roasting them, or freeze them for later use.
How to Freeze Raw Butternut Squash Cubes
To freeze butternut squash cubes, I first arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet. I make sure the cubes don’t touch (or don’t touch too much) – otherwise they could freeze in a clump.
I pop the baking sheet into my freezer for 20-30 minutes. You can freeze it for longer than that, but keep in mind that the cubes could stick to the tray, in which case it would be hard to remove them.
If that’s a concern (say, you’re leaving the house or just know that you’ll forget it), feel free to line the baking sheet with wax paper first.
Once the surface of the squash cubes gets fairly hard and dry (they don’t have to be frozen all the way through), take the baking sheet out of the freezer, and move the cubed squash into an airtight freezer-proof bag (I love these reusable freezer bags from Amazon).
If the cubes got stuck to the tray, just let the tray sit out for 5 minutes. The squash cubes will melt a little bit, and you’ll be able to move them off the tray without an issue.
The bagged squash can be stored in the freezer for 3-4 months (or even longer). To defrost cubed butternut squash, put the bag on the bottom shelf of your fridge overnight, or submerge the whole unopened bag into warm water for 20-30 minutes if you need to defrost it quickly.
I haven’t tried cooking frozen squash straight from the freezer without defrosting, so I can’t tell you if it would work. If I do, I’ll update this post and let you know!
This recipe is one of the 15 kid friendly vegan recipes that have been approved by my 2 year-old daughter.
How to Roast Butternut Squash Italian or Indian-style
It’s very easy to infuse roasted butternut squash with delicious Italian or Indian-style flavors. All you need to do is toss cubed squash with certain spices (see below), salt and pepper, and drizzle the cubes with a bit of oil (high-heat avocado oil is my preference but grapeseed or olive oil will work too).
Next, arrange the seasoned cubed butternut squash in a single layer in a lightly greased large 9″ x 13″ casserole or on a baking sheet.
Do we need to use parchment paper? If you want to be able to remove the roasted squash easily off the baking sheet or out of the casserole once it’s done, then line them with parchment paper. But I find that butternut squash caramelizes a bit better if roasted directly on the unlined but lightly greased surface.
My little trick to speed up the roasting process + to keep the squash form drying out: I cover the casserole with aluminum foil to trap the steam that does both of these things really well. It’s easier to do that with a casserole than a baking tray though.
After about 15 minutes of roasting at 425°F, I remove the foil and let the squash roast for another 10-15 minutes uncovered.
When cooked this way, my roasted Italian or Indian-style butternut squash comes out tender on the inside from being cooked with steam, yet beautifully caramelized on the outside from roasting uncovered.
spice blend for ITALIAN-STYLE Roasted Butternut Squash:
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- ½ tsp dry rubbed sage
- 1/2 tsp dried rosemary (optional)
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- Dash red pepper flakes or cayenne, to taste (optional)
- Salt, to taste
SPICE BLEND FOR Indian-style (Curried) BUTTERNUT SQUASH:
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- ½ tsp turmeric or curry powder
- 1/4 tsp garam masala
- dash coriander powder (optional)
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- Salt, to taste
Depending on what else is for dinner, I use different spices on the squash to achieve flavor that complements the rest of the meal.
Italian roasted butternut squash can be served as a part of a delicious fall-inspired comfort food feast. Serve it with as a side dish with homemade BBQ seitan or BBQ chickpeas, or pair it with other vegan side dishes like slow cooker collard greens, balsamic sauteed kale and onions, or chipotle coleslaw.
Indian-style butternut squash goes well with lentil dal, jasmine rice, roti, and other Indian comfort foods. I also use it as an ingredient for coconut curry and some soups.
While I’ve profiled 2 sets of spices in this recipe for Indian- and Italian-style butternut squash, you can change up the spices to your liking – this surely is the dish that allows lots of experimenting.
If you’ve tried this recipe, I’d love to hear how it turned out! Give it a star rating below, pin it to Pinterest, tag @vegan_runner_eats on Instagram, or leave a comment.
Do you use different types of winter squash a lot this time of the year? What is your favorite way to prepare butternut squash?
This recipe was originally published in January 2014. It has been updated with new pictures and expanded copy in September 2020.
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