Meaty, sweet and packed with nutrition, winter squash are a wonderful addition to autumn and winter meals – the only problem being breaking through the thick skin in order to cook it.

Heavy knives and mallets don’t really do the trick, and can be downright dangerous. Older cookbooks suggest taking an ax or hatchet to the whole squash or dropping it from a height onto a garage floor so it breaks apart. Some pre-peeled and cubed winter squash has started to appear in the supermarket but the price triples and freshness can be questionable.

But wait – microwave to the rescue! By sticking the squash in the oven on high power for a few minutes, the skin softens enough so a knife glides right through it. First pierce the squash in several places with a skewer or the point of a sharp knife. Most smaller squash take less time to soften than larger varieties, so start with about 3 minutes, and move up from there if need be.

ROASTED HARD-TO-PEEL WINTER SQUASH WITH MAPLE BUTTER

Scalloped acorn squash has one of the prettiest shapes, but all the other thick- and uneven-skinned squash varieties that are hard to peel, including buttercup, kabocha, Hubbard and delicata, can also be treated this way. The slices don’t have to be even.

Serves four.

2 acorn squash (about 2 pounds) or similar weight of other winter squash

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Pierce the squash and microwave on high for 2 to 4 (or more) minutes. Slice lengthwise, scoop out seeds, and cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange in a buttered baking dish.

Melt the butter with the maple syrup, brush over the flesh, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and caramelized, 30 to 45 minutes.

If you’d like more caramelization, run the cooked squash under the broiler for about a minute.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH MASH WITH GINGER AND CREAM

Butternut is the one squash with skin smooth enough to be easily peeled, so it’s a great candidate for boiling/steaming or braising. If you want to cut the squash into pieces for easier peeling, use the microwave trick.

This mash, which is enlivened with fresh ginger and then smoothed and enriched with a little butter and cream, is perfect for the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Serves four to six.

2 pounds butternut squash

Salt

2 tablespoons butter

1 to 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

1/3 cup heavy cream

Freshly ground black pepper

Peel the squash, scoop out the seeds, and cut into rough 1 1/2-inch chunks (about 5 cups). Boil in or steam over salted water until very tender, 15 to 20 minutes. If squash has been boiled, drain and place pot back over heat to evaporate excess water.

Add butter, 1 teaspoon ginger and the cream, and use a potato masher to mash to a puree. (It doesn’t have to be completely smooth.) If you like more sharpness, add another teaspoon of ginger. Season with pepper and additional salt to taste. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to two days or freeze. Reheat before serving.

 

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Dishing Up Maine” (Storey Publishing 2006) and “The New England Clam Shack Cookbook” (Storey 2008). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula.