Squash, that handsome fruit most people ignore until the holidays, is actually thousands of years old, and among the first crops grown in North America. It is one of the foundational “three sisters” crops, along with beans and maize, grown in close proximity to each other by North American native societies. Beans climbed the cornstalks to reach the sun and trapped nitrogen in the soil through their roots; the large squash vine leaves shaded the soil, preventing moisture loss, their fuzzy texture also discouraging insect pests.

1. Squash—especially the denser, orange-fleshed winter squashes, such as butternut and hubbard—is remarkably nutritious. These squash contain up to 750% of the daily value for vitamin A in less than one cup. Squash also have relatively high levels of magnesium, necessary to absorb calcium, and a mineral many North Americans are deficient in. Winter squashes are high in fiber relative to carbohydrates, and have a low glycemic load. Among a host of other minerals and micronutrients, winter squashes contain a compound called cucurbitacin, named after the squash genus, a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and hepaprotector that has caught the attention of cancer researchers as a potential component of cancer therapy medication.

2. Winter squash is a local crop that is inexpensive, available all year, and stores fresh at room temperature for months. There just isn’t another food around that can make this claim. This means that the taste, nutritional qualities, and look and feel of squash remain intact without having to freeze or refrigerate it. And they look handsome perched on one’s kitchen table.

3. Unlike kale, whose spike in popularity sparked recent (but short-lived) fears of a global shortage in 2014, squash (which includes pumpkin, acorn, butternut, hubbard, spaghetti squash, zucchini, and roughly 20 other commercial varieties—it’s the most varied cultivated crop on Earth), already tastes great. Its nutty, sweet flavor is known to many of us, but sadly, squash remains largely ignored outside of Thanksgiving and the winter holiday season. The truth is that squash is amazingly versatile and easy to use, once one gets the hang of things. Its taste and remarkable texture make it a natural thickener for soups and stews when pureed (and fantastic as the base for nutritious spreads, dips, and smoothies). There are easy-to-master cutting, handling, and peeling techniques that make it a snap to break down squash, which, for all of these reasons, truly deserves to be re-established as a staple food for the North American table.

So, the next time you’re at your favorite grocery store, or better yet, your favorite farmers’ market give this humble crop another look. Take one home and cube it roasted into chili or salad (yes, even kale salad). Peel a butternut squash into strips and fry them into “butternut bacon.” Use pureed squash (or canned pumpkin, which holds up remarkably well in terms of both taste and nutrition) to make squash hummus. Or just cut it open and bake it on the half shell with butter and pepper—you can even eat the seeds, which make for a highly nutritious, crunchy treat when roasted with a little oil and chili spice.

Bacon-Wrapped Butternut Stuffed with Kale & Blue Cheese

Look for a butternut with a large base. The bigger the bowl, the more stuffing you can get into it. Not only is this dish literally stuffed with goodness, it is beautifully presented—and it has bacon. What are you waiting for?

Makes 4 Servings

1 butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
2 slices bacon
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup chopped onion
½ clove garlic, minced
1½ cups trimmed and chopped kale (centre rib removed)
2 slices rye, multigrain or sourdough bread
1½ tablespoons crumbled blue cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the round “bowl” end from the squash (reserve the “arm” for another use). Peel squash and discard the seeds. Brush squash all over with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the squash cutside down on the prepared baking sheet. Drape the bacon over the squash, crossing at right angles to form an X. Roast in preheated oven for 30 minutes, basting occasionally with bacon drippings. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare the stuffing: In a large frying pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion and garlic until softened, about 1½ minutes. Stir in the kale and sauté for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Toast the bread and cut into ½-inch cubes. Gently stir into the kale mixture. Add the blue cheese and toss to combine.

Increase the oven temperature to 500°F. Turn the bacon-wrapped squash cut-side up on the baking sheet and tuck the dangling ends of bacon into the “bowl.” Stuff to overflowing with the kale mixture. Bake for about 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

To serve, cut between the bacon slices.

Kabocha Devilled Eggs

Mashed kabocha adds a delicate nutty flavour and bright golden colour to the yolk mixture of these devilled eggs, not to mention nutritional benefits. It also adds lightness and volume, so you won’t run out of stuffing. You might never make devilled eggs the old way again.

Makes 14 pieces

7 eggs
½ cup mashed roasted kabocha, acorn or butternut squash
½ green onion, white and green parts, chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped mixed fresh herbs (thyme, chives or parsley; optional)
Pinch of hot paprika

Place the eggs in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover them by an inch. Set the timer for 18 minutes. Bring to a simmer, uncovered, over high heat. Eggs peel easier when they are cooled down quickly, so set up a bowl of ice water in your sink. When the timer goes off, use a slotted spoon to scoop the eggs into the prepared ice bath.

Once cooled, peel the eggs and cut in half. Separate the cooked yolks from the whites and transfer the yolks to a bowl. Arrange the halved whites on a platter that’s been lined with a napkin or paper towel (to keep them from sliding all over).

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, blitz the yolks, squash, green onion, Dijon mustard and mayonnaise until smooth. (Alternatively, you can mash them using a fork.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Fill the egg whites with generous spoonfuls of the filling. Sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs (if using) and a dusting of paprika. Chill well before serving.

Butternut “Bacon”

When Rob told us about butternut “bacon,” we were skeptical—nothing can compare to the king of breakfast meats! But Rob showed us that butternut “bacon” can come pretty close. This is an amazing vegan recipe for the easiest and most magical-tasting fake bacon ever. Set it out on a platter and watch it disappear...

Makes 24 to 36 “Bacon” Strips

1 butternut squash, peeled and seeded
Grapeseed, peanut or vegetable oil
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

Using a Y- shaped vegetable peeler, peel the butternut squash. Next, peel the flesh into long strips, applying firm pressure for adequate thickness. Peel as many strips as you wish (about 6 to 8 strips per person); reserve any unused squash for another dish.

In a frying pan, heat 1/₈ inch of oil (just enough to “float” the “bacon”) over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, carefully place the a few strips of “bacon” in the pan, being careful not to overcrowd. (We recommend doing a trial strip first, as “bacon” cooks extremely quickly.)

Cook the bacon, flipping once, until the edges are lightly browned and a little crispy, about 10 to 15 seconds per side. Be careful not to overcook—dark, fully crisp bacon will taste burnt.

Transfer the cooked “bacon” to a plate lined with paper towel to absorb excess oil. (If cooking a large batch, keep warm in a low oven.) Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tip: Try putting 2 or 3 strips of butternut “bacon” on top of a serving of green salad—it’s a simple, elegant and tasty garnish. We also like to use any extra we have on hand in Breakfast Tacos and BLTs.