Warm up to Butternut Squash
Easy prep ideas to get you started
Late fall and winter cooking certainly centers around a few notable and versatile ingredients, not the least of which are the winter squashes. Grocers’ tables are stocked full of these hard skinned and oddly shaped squashes this time of year making them a reasonably priced and flavorful addition to a variety of dishes and preparations.
Butternut squashes, in one form or another, have existed for hundreds if not thousands of years and are native to the Americas. Unlike their summer counterparts zucchini and the yellow squashes, butternut and its sisters (pumpkin, hubbard and kabocha) develop hard outer skins and firm flesh which allows for over-wintering in storage. Commercial varieties now have slightly thinner skins than their ancestor varieties simply to make them a little easier to work with and thereby a little more pleasing to consumers.
The beauty of the butternut is in the flesh; when roasted or simmered it becomes a creamy, slightly less sweet version of pumpkin crossed with sweet potato. While its flavor is similar to pumpkin, it has a unique savory edge that lends itself to distinctly different dishes and seasonings than pumpkin does. Most would have a hard time imagining a pumpkin dish with cumin or rosemary while the butternut flavor shines with either.
Butternuts are easy to pick out at the farmers’ market or grocers – look for squashes that are uniformly beige, smooth and dull skinned, and free of blemishes. Green stripes are an indication of being under-ripe. Butternuts should be in the 2-3 pound range for normal recipes and will yield about three to four cups of cubed squash or purée for a recipe. Butternut also freezes well both in raw and cooked forms.
Nutritionally speaking, butternut squash is low in fat, high in fiber, and a better source of potassium than bananas as well as a good source of dietary B6. Being a fall/winter ingredient, it is a great source of nutrients at a time of year when even the sturdy kales and chards have disappeared from the farmers’ market tables.
Okay, let’s admit it is not the easiest vegetable to cut up. With its hard outer shell, cutting the butternut can be difficult. But, just by cutting it in half, you don’t have to remove the skin at all! The easiest way is to start with a sharp, heavy knife. After carefully removing any remnants of the stem at the top, cut the squash in half between the thin neck and the round bulb. Carefully cut the neck and bulb in half and scoop the seeds from the bulb. Remember to keep the seeds for cleaning and roasting later just like pumpkin seeds. The halves can now be roasted as is or peeled and diced according to your preparation. The skin slips off easily after roasting, and the flesh is easiest to mash while still warm.
Just a bit of work pays off with enough squash to use in several dishes. A simple purée in a blender with a splash of cream and spices makes a quick soup. Toss cubed squash with olive oil and roast, then drizzle with a wonderful local syrup as a quick side dish. Roasted chunks are great to stir into pasta or mash up in the place of potatoes. Add diced, cooked, and cooled butternut to salads, omelets, or anywhere a bright taste and splash of color is what’s lacking. Roasted cubes also make a fantastic base for hummus that can be prepared as usual substituting the butternut for the garbanzo beans and lowering the amount of oil and water that may be added.
Regardless of how you cut it, scoop it, roast or purée it – butternut squash is one of the fall favorites you will come to look forward to every year.
Butternut Pecan Bread
Makes 1 – 9” loaf
1 cup butternut squash, cooked and mashed
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 cup), at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup pecan halves or pieces (optional)
extra butter, pan spray or vegetable oil to grease loaf pan
Preheat over to 350°F.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, powder, soda, salt, and optional cinnamon.
Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer) beat butter until creamy, then add sugar and brown sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat until smooth. Add mashed butternut and mix until smooth. Add dry ingredients to the mixer and slowly mix just until combined, adding the optional nuts about half way through. Try not to over-mix.
Pour batter into a 9” x 5” loaf pan that has been greased and lined with paper. Bake for about an hour or until a toothpick inserted into bread comes out clean. Cool, in the pan, on a wire rack. Remove bread from loaf pan and continue to cool. Slice and serve warm or store, tightly wrapped at room temperature or in refrigerator.
Braised Butternut Squash with Figs and Rosemary
Makes 6 servings as side dish
1 butternut or other winter squash, about 3 pounds
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 cup dried or fresh figs, stemmed and halved
½ cup fresh orange juice (no additives)
½ cup vegetable or chicken broth
4 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary plus sprigs for garnish
¼ teaspoon salt plus more to taste
Peel squash and cut into ¾- to 1-inch chunks to measure about 4 cups.
In a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, over medium heat, melt butter. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft and golden. Add squash, figs, orange juice, broth, rosemary, and salt then cover and bring to a boil. Once mixture boils, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until squash is tender when pierced with a fork. If liquid remains, remove figs and vegetables with slotted spoon to serving bowl; simmer remaining liquid uncovered until reduced to 3 to 4 tablespoons. Pour liquid over squash mixture. Taste for salt. Garnish with additional rosemary sprigs. Serve warm or at room temperature.