pumpkinFall is here, and so are pumpkin-flavored everythings: pumpkin coffee, pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin granola bars, even pumpkin rice cakes. (And of course pumpkin beer.) Unfortunately, most of these commercially made pumpkin foods don’t contain much real pumpkin. If you do want to enjoy the real deal, though, it’s easy, especially when you think of pumpkin first and foremost as winter squash—hard-skinned, naturally sweet winter squashes are interchangeable in terms of both flavor and how they’re prepared. Ditto for the seeds—no matter which winter squash you choose, you can save the seeds and roast them to make tasty snacks and garnishes as well as inclusions for cookies, bars, and other baked goods.

  • Canned
    This is the easiest possible pumpkin permutation: cooked, mashed pumpkin can be stirred into pie fillings, quick bread and pancake batters, or even made into a dip (see recipe below). Butternut squash is also often available canned and is interchangeable with pumpkin. Or if you’re an avid canner, can your own fresh winter squash!
  • Quick Pumpkin Dip
    Stir 2 cups of plain whole-milk Greek yogurt into 1 cup of canned pumpkin, then drizzle in maple syrup to taste. You might also want to add some cinnamon, allspice, and/or ginger to taste. Serve with apple and pear slices.
  • Pre-Cut
    If you’re not in the mood to take the time to prep a winter squash (they can be a bit tricky to cut through), you can buy pre-cut winter squash at many grocery and produce stores, including Trader Joe’s. At that point, all you need to do is simmer the cubed squash for 10 minutes or until tender, then either toss the cooked cubes with seasonings or mash them into the equivalent of freshly made canned pumpkin. Or you could toss the cubes with coconut oil and some salt and pepper and roast them on a parchment-covered baking sheet at 375F for 20 minutes or until the squash is turning golden brown. Roasted squash makes a delicious non-starchy alternative to fries and potatoes!
  • Spiralized
    The latest craze to hit grocery stores is spiralized butternut noodles. (And beets and zucchini and sweet potato veggie noodles…) You can use them raw, or you can sauté them with a splash of extra-virgin olive oil for a minute or two over medium heat to soften them, then use them as you would regular grain-based noodles.
  • Fresh
    Making your own winter squash from scratch is easy assuming that you have a sturdy 8” chef’s knife and a mallet. Position your knife wherever you want to make your first cut—usually in half either lengthwise or around the “waist” of the squash—and press into the squash to get the cut started, then whack on opposite ends of the knife with a mallet to quickly force the knife through the hard squash. From there, you can scoop out the seeds and roast the squash halves, or you can cut and trim the squash into smaller pieces. (Once the squash is halved, you’ll have flat surfaces to work with, making the task of cutting and trimming much easier and safer.) Depending on the size of the squash, you’ll have to roast it at 400F for anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour or until you can easily pierce the flesh with a fork.

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