Butternut squash is by far the favorite winter squash and with good reason. Its sweet, nutty flavor and smooth texture, reminiscent of buttered sweet potato, make it a great multi-use squash for fall dishes, including those that call for pumpkin. Further, butternut squash stores well for several months in a root cellar or cool, dry location. And last but not least, it is very nutritious (Vitamins A and C), including the seeds.
Like all winter squash, butternut squash have a thick, hard skin and a seed cavity inside with large seeds. If you’re new to squash, it might be a bit intimidating to select, peel, and turn a hard-shelled squash into something delicious. It doesn’t have to be. Here are some helpful hints:
Begin by selecting a squash that has a smooth, even tan colored skin free of blemishes, cracks or soft spots. The stem should be brownish and woody looking. Look for the ones with the longest, fattest necks as this is the “meaty” part of the squash; the seeds are found in the bulbous lower part. Butternut squash come in various sizes weighing between 1 ½ to 5 pounds. One pound of squash becomes roughly 2 cups of cooked squash or 2 cups cubed.
There are a number of ways to peel it. The method really depends upon the intended use. If it is to be used as a puree, it is not necessary to peel it at all. It can be sliced in half length-wise, seeds removed, placed face-down in a lightly oiled baking dish, and baked in a moderate oven (350F) until tender; it can also be microwaved in the same manner. After cooling, the soft flesh can be scooped out and used for pumpkin pie, soups, breads, and desserts. (The pulp can also be run through a food processor if desired for an even smoother texture.) If the recipe calls for cubed squash, then the peel needs to be removed. Good Housekeeping offers an excellent tutorial on peeling and cubing squash. Cubed squash can be roasted, steamed, cooked, or pureed. Cubed butternut is typically added to recipes raw and it cooks with the other ingredients. However, roasting butternut squash adds a new level of caramelized sweetness and is so easy to do. Simply season squash cubes as desired, place on a lightly oiled baking sheet/dish, and bake a 400F oven until tender and lightly browned (approx. 25-30 min).
Butternut squash keeps well for four months in a cool dry, well ventilated location. Even greater success is assured when the squash has been “cured” post-harvest. This involves approximately 10 days of air drying in warm temperatures (80-85F). If you have more squash than can be used at one time, it will keep up to four days in the refrigerator (cooked or fresh) or can be frozen for later use as a puree or cubed. To freeze cubed squash, blanch peeled cubes of raw squash for 3 minutes—just until heated through, drain, and chill in cold water. Keep blanched cubes in a colander while chilling to avoid their breaking apart. Drain thoroughly and spread on a cookie sheet in a single layer; place in the freezer for at least 4 hours and then transferred to an air-tight freezer bag (Nebraska Cooperative Extension) (photos at http://www.livestrong.com/article/520339-how-to-freeze-chunks-of-butternut-squash/). Frozen cubes can be added directly to your recipe.
There are a myriad of recipes and ways to use butternut squash. Some additional creative suggestions include:
- Shave raw squash into ribbons (like carrots) and use in your favorite salad
- Add a little puree to your breakfast oatmeal along with your choice of nuts, raisins, dried cranberries, flax seed, cinnamon, vanilla, maple syrup, etc
- Blend puree or small chunks into your favorite hummus recipe
- Add more texture to a soup by stirring in squash pureed in a blender
- Add to smoothies, dips, or baked goods batter
- Add cubes to pizza or make a pizza sauce with puree
- Season cubes with cumin and/or coriander and top off your tacos
Lastly, don’t toss the seeds. They can be roasted as a garnish for soups or enjoyed as a snack. Butternut squash seeds are smaller than pumpkin seeds so they are a bit faster and easier to prepare. I learned a good tip from Elise Bauer at Simply Recipes to boil the seeds prior to roasting that really works well and seems to make the seeds easier to digest.
Butternut Squash is a member of the Cucurbita Moschata or “cheese” pumpkin family and as such other family members such as cushaw and winter crookneck can be prepared in the same way as the butternut. Happy Fall and enjoy your squash!