Banana squash is one of those foods that you might not recognize if you saw it growing in a field because it is almost never sold in its original form. So what exactly is a banana squash?
What Is Banana Squash?
Banana squash is a type of winter squash, and the first thing to know is that banana squash are huge. As in, they can grow to be 2 to 3 feet long, with a relatively narrow diameter of six inches or so, and can weigh up to 35 pounds.
Banana squash gets its name not from its massive size but because of its oblong proportions, as well as from its pale, creamy, yellow skin—although some versions are a light pink color and some varieties, known as rainbow, are striped.
Now, when you picture a 3-foot, 30-pound squash, you start to understand why you almost never see a whole one of these in the grocery store. For one thing, they take up too much space. And for another, most consumers are intimidated by vegetables that look like they could as easily eat you as the other way around.
As a result, when you see banana squash at the grocery store, it's usually cut into smaller sections, with its seeds and innards scooped out.
The result is a tidy slab of squash that is ready and easy to cook. You might also see it cut into slices. Its flesh is firm, dense and meaty with a deep orange color.
How to Use Banana Squash
Because of its uniform shape, banana squash is easy to cook via all the usual methods that you use for preparing winter squash, most notably roasting, baking and steaming.
A typical method uses the precut slabs of squash described earlier. If you have a whole squash, cut off the ends, then slice it lengthwise, then cut the halves into halves or thirds, depending on how big it is. Then scoop out the seeds and pulp and lightly scrape the flesh to remove any soft or fibrous material.
Using a sharp knife, make a series of 1/4-inch deep cross cuts in the flesh of the squash, so that it looks like a checkerboard. Press softened butter into the incisions, sprinkle with Kosher salt, brown sugar, and a bit of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice. Bake at 375 F for an hour to an hour and 15 minutes, until tender and lightly browned.
In addition to serving it as a side dish, roasted, baked, or pureed, it can also go in soups, stews and risottos, pasta dishes, curries, and even sliced thinly as a pizza topping.
You can also cook the sections in the microwave, cut side up, for 7 to 10 minutes, although you'll miss out on the lovely caramelization that you get cooking it in the conventional oven. Cooking it in the microwave is essentially steaming it. But it's definitely quick and convenient.
What Does It Taste Like?
Banana squash has a sweet, unassuming flavor, similar to butternut squash. You can use it in any recipe that calls for an orange-fleshed winter squash, such as butternut, acorn, and kabocha. It pairs well with pork, lamb, and apricots, as well as herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and sage, and spices like cumin, cinnamon, cloves, curry powder, and nutmeg.
Banana Squash Recipes
It's easy to substitute banana squash in recipes with butternut or some other winter squash recipes. Try banana squash with these squash recipes:
Where to Buy Banana Squash
Banana squash is widely available at most grocery stores all year round, but most you're most likely to find it during its peak season during fall and winter.
Since because of the size of banana squash you're most likely to find it in stores precut, you can keep those cut pieces in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, for up to five days. If you happen to get your hands on a whole one, perhaps at a farmers market, it will last up to a month if you store it in a cool, dry place.