Chilly autumn days in Croatia means lots of warm comfort foods for me and Kuba. We eat pasta often, usually every other day. Besides our mushroom-pea marinara, one of our favourite pasta sauces is one made with sumptuous roasted winter squash. Served with whole wheat spaghetti, roasted chickpeas, and fresh basil, it’s definitely one of my favourite meals!
I love adding winter squash to our marinara because it’s cheap, filling, and highly nutritious. Winter squash is packed full of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and fibre.
Just like winter squash, other similarly coloured foods like carrots, papaya, mango, and sweet potato (to name a few) are all packed full of beta-carotene. This antioxidant is what gives these foods their deep orange hue. Beta-carotene helps protect your vision, heart, and immune system.
Not only is winter squash healthy, it’s insanely delicious roasted. Roasted squash tucked into a marinara, piled atop a bowl of whole wheat spaghetti: sublime!
Roasting boosts the flavour because the high heat literally brings out the sugar. You should see sugary syrup seeping out of the squash in the oven. If you don’t, that means your squash is more on the dry side. Cut the roasting time in half if that’s the case.
Roasted squash rounds out a veggie-packed marinara nicely with its natural sweetness. Even though it’s common to add sugar to a tomato sauce to offset the acidity of the tomatoes, adding sweet veggies like squash (or peas) works just as well.
We’ve tried several winter squashes from the market but our hands-down favourite has to be kabocha squash. This squash resembles a pumpkin except it’s flatter. The larger ones at the market have dark green, bumpy skin but we’ve seen some smaller orange-skinned ones as well.
We only tried cooking with a smaller, orange-skinned kabocha once, and its flesh was noticeably drier. I’m not sure if this was because the squash wasn’t fully ripe, or perhaps the orange ones just aren’t as sweet?
At any rate, for this recipe, I recommend using kabocha squash or any winter squash that’s more on the sweet side. The squash should be very sweet with a colour reminiscent of papaya or persimmons. I’m no squash expert by any means but based on my research online, buttercup or butternut squash should work just fine.
If you have more experience cooking with winter squash, feel free to offer any tips or tricks in the comments below. 🙂 I’m a winter squash newbie so I’m always eager to learn! And if you try this recipe with other varieties of winter squash, let me know how it turns out.
Roasted Winter Squash Marinara
I use kabocha squash in this recipe because it's sweet and vibrantly coloured. Serve this hearty marinara with whole wheat spaghetti, roasted chickpeas, and fresh basil.
- 500 g winter squash, cubed (~2.5 cups)
- 200 ml water (~3/4 cup)
- 1 small red onion, diced (~70 g)
- 300 g button mushrooms, sliced (~4.5 cups)
- 1 large red bell pepper, diced (~164 g)
- 2 medium carrots, sliced (~120 g)
- 1 bay leaf, dried
- 1 teaspoon oregano, dried
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 140 g tomato paste (~1/2 cup)
- 400 g diced tomatoes, canned
Preheat your oven to 220℃ (~425℉) and line a pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Spread squash cubes into the pan in an even layer. Roast for 30-50 minutes, mixing them around halfway through. (Roasting time depends on how sweet or dry your squash is. If it's sweet and juicy, it will need more time in the oven. If it's dry, 30 minutes should do the trick.) Once the squash is slightly charred and sticky, remove from the oven and set aside.
Heat a large saute pan (or a large pot) over medium-high heat. Add the water, onion, mushrooms, bell pepper, carrot, bay leaf, oregano, and black pepper. Stir well to coat veggies with water. Saute for 5 minutes or until mushrooms shrink and release water.
Stir in tomato paste and diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes stirring occasionally (so the liquid reduces and the sauce thickens). Lower the heat slightly if the sauce starts to stick to the bottom and stir more often.
Stir in the roasted squash and cook for 1-2 minutes longer, just until the squash is heated through.
Serve with whole wheat or gluten-free spaghetti, pasta, couscous, rice or chips!
- One serving (1/4 of the recipe) is approximately 150 calories.
- If you make this recipe and serve it with one 500 g pack of whole wheat spaghetti, one serving is approximately 585 calories.
- I never add extra salt to my meals but feel free to salt this sauce to your taste.
- We usually buy squash pre-cut at the market because this saves us prep time. Also, we can ensure we are purchasing sweet, deep orange-coloured squash as opposed to something drier and less vibrant.
- If you don't want to bother peeling and cutting the squash, a simpler method is to roast the entire squash (cut into halves) first. Once it's roasted, the skin will come right off. Simply remove the stem and cut the squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and place halves cut side down in a pan. Poke the skin with a fork or knife a few times to let steam escape. Bake at 180℃/350℉ for 45 minutes to an hour until the squash is soft when poked with a fork. Let cool and peel off the skin. Easy!
- If you use a wide saute pan, the sauce will reduce faster than if you were cooking it in a taller stockpot. The surface area of the pan bottom dictates how quickly the sauce will reduce. More surface area = faster evaporation.