September 25, 2009

What to do with butternut squash

I was so pleased to have such a large harvest of butternut squash this year.  They continue to come in from the garden, and at this point we have over 20 stored.  Like many members of the winter squash family, butternut squash will store for months if kept in a cool part of your home.  If allowed to store for at least a few weeks, the flavor will sweeten and intensify.  Many of the friends and relatives we have given these to do not know how to prepare them.  Below are some of my tips and recipes that I hope will inspire you to give butternut squash a try.

Starting out

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Butternut squash is a hard squash, and it therefore requires a lot longer cooking time than summer squashes/zucchinis.  Like many other hard squashes, it is less stringy if roasted rather than microwaved or boiled.  Its flavors become more mellow and sweet when roasted in the oven.

Its juice will leave a residue on your hands and your knife.  When cutting into the squash you will want to use your knife that is the most heavy duty.  I use our chef’s knife, but a butcher knife would also work.  To prevent the residue, use cooking spray or a little olive oil to grease the cutting part of the knife.  (Obviously do not grease the handle or you risk your hand slipping and hurting yourself.)  To prevent the juice staining your hands, you can use some plastic gloves. 

Almost all of the squash can be eaten, and the parts that are discarded are great to add to your compost bin.  The only parts that I discard are the top and bottom of the squash, and the stringy parts that connect the seeds.  I’ve heard that the stringy parts are good food for chickens.  The peel is also too tough to eat, but if you have ever tried to peel a butternut squash at this point, you have learned that it is an exercise in futility.  After they have roasted, their peel will pull away from the flesh, making it much easier to remove.

Save the seeds—make pepitas!

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Butternut squash seeds, just like pumpkin seeds, are edible.  Scrape the stringy parts of the squash out, and pull the seeds out with your fingers.  I use a spoon that has a little bit of a point to for scraping. 

Soak the seeds in very salty water for at least an hour to overnight.  This soaking will soften the hulls of the shells and make them more easily digestible.  When ready to prepare them, drain them thoroughly and place in a cast iron skillet.  I use my cast iron that has a more shallow lip so that they roast more easily, but any cast iron skillet will work.  Spread them out to a single layer.  Use about 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil for each cup of seeds (you just want enough oil to help prevent them sticking and drying out too much).  Sprinkle with Tony Chacheres Cajun Seasoning.  If you cannot find Tony’s, use plain salt.  Roast in a 375-400 degree oven for about 15-25 minutes, based on the amount of seeds you have.  When they are golden brown, they are ready.  They will keep in a mason jar for at least one week on the counter. 

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Note: the photo shows the seeds from two squashes.  The amount of seeds will vary based on the size of the squash.  The second photo is what they will look like once they have cooked.   You might see these called pepitas in Hispanic restaurants

To roast

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I prefer to cut the squash in half to roast, though if you have a longer squash you may need to quarter the pieces.  I brush a little olive oil on the inside and out and turn them face down in the pan.  The photo above shows the flesh side up so that you can see what they will look like.  Roast them in a 375-400 degree oven until a knife can easily be inserted into the fleshiest part of the squash.  This will take 40 minutes-1 hour depending on the size of the squash.  To save electricity, check them at about 30 minutes.  If they are nearing done, close the oven and turn it off.  Let them sit in the warm oven for another 30 minutes before you pull them out.

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The photo above is what they will look like when they have completed roasting.  Notice that the skin is wrinkly and pulling away from the flesh.  Once they have cooled, use a butter knife or your fingers to remove the skin.  Discard it in the trash instead of compost because of the use of oil. 

Recipes

  • The simplest way to eat the butternut squash is to mash them.  Add butter, cream, and seasoning as you would if you were making mashed potatoes.  Then top them with some freshly grated parmesan cheese.  Delicious! 
  • Another recipe for the mashed squash is to make it sweet.  Use butter, cream/milk, and instead of seasoning add a little maple syrup.  Yum!
  • You can use the plain mash in pumpkin muffin and pie recipes. 
  • For babies, you can simply mash them or process in a blender, mill, or food processor.  Add a little cream, breastmilk (yes, I said to use breastmilk in a recipe!), or filtered water to thin it out.  Our daughter loved homemade butternut squash baby food when she was younger.  If you make too much freeze them in individual sized containers or an ice cube tray.

Butternut Squash Soup

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Ingredients

The flesh of 2 butternut squash

1-2 quarts chicken stock/chicken broth (mine was in a 1.75 l Pyrex container)

1 T. Ginger

1 t. cayenne

1 T. Salt

1 can (14 oz) coconut milk (NOT cream of coconut!!!!)  I use the Taste of Thai organic coconut milk

Add all the ingredients in the pot and use an emersion blender mix them well.  If you do not have an emersion blender you can mix the soup in small batches in a blender or food processor.  Just remember to vent the food processor and blender because the mixture will be hot and producing steam.  If you do not vent the soup slightly, the steam will build up and can cause a minor “explosion” of soup and put you at a risk of burns. 

The amount of stock vs squash will determine how thick the recipe is.  If you find it too thin, then cook it on low heat for an hour or longer to reduce the liquid down.  If you find it too thick, then add more broth/stock or a little water to the recipe.

Adjust the seasoning as  you like.  I normally use Tony’s on this soup, but since I was serving it to some friends who are gluten free in diet, I stuck with the cayenne and salt.

If you cannot find coconut milk, you can use cream or whole milk instead, though the flavor will not be the same. 

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Garnish with a sprinkling of cayenne or Tony’s and a few pepitas.  Enjoy!!

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