What is the most versatile of winter vegetables? Which one lends itself to simple roasting, to soups and salads and to delicious pasta dishes? Which adds color and texture to any plate but can be savory and sweet at the same time?
My vote goes to butternut squash. It’s hearty, healthy and can be used in a number of ways. It can be the foundation for a fabulous entrée or soup, but can just as easily make for a substantial side dish or salad.
It’s really fairly simple to prepare, inexpensive and delicious. There are just a few things one needs to know about preparing butternut squash.
First is how to buy it.
If you have time and a limited budget, buying a whole squash is the way to go. This, however, means you have to spend a little time peeling and cutting it up unless you just want to cut it in half, clean out the seeds and roast it.
But in most grocery stores these days, you can buy a bag of cubes or ribbons of butternut squash, either fresh or frozen, which you can use immediately in a number of ways.
Next is how to prepare it.
If you are making soup or a puree of squash, roasting it in the shell will work fine. Just cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and roast it face down on a greased baking pan.
If you want to serve it as a dish of roasted squash paired with other root vegetables, you may want to peel and cut the squash. To peel a butternut squash, carefully cut off either end, then use a sharp vegetable peeler to remove all the peel including the white flesh on the inside. Then, cut the squash in half and remove the seeds from the center. Proceed from this stage to carefully cut the shape you need for your recipe.
To roast it simply alone, I cut it into one-inch cubes. For a more interesting shape, you might roast inch thick slices (but realize they will take longer to roast.) For roasting, I recommend tossing the squash in olive oil and spices and roasting it in a hot oven (400ºF) until it is tender—about 40 minutes.
If you want to use the squash as a substitute for pasta, you will have to either buy it pre-cut in ribbons or consider peeling and cutting it into the shape you want yourself.
For instance, if you want to use thin slices of squash in place of lasagna noodles, you will have to peel the squash and slice in thinly to make large slices.
If you want to use it like fettuccine, you will have to cut it into ribbons, cook it until it is almost tender and then add it into your sauce. This works particularly well with an Alfredo sauce or other cheese based pasta sauce.
Winter Squash Soup
1-2 cups cooked acorn or butternut squash, mashed
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh herbs
1 Tablespoon real maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste
In a saucepan, mix all the ingredients together and heat through. If needed, run the soup through a blender or use an immersion blender in the pan. Season to taste and serve hot.
Simple Roasted Butternut Squash
1 large Butternut Squash, peeled and cubed
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon salt
½ Teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ Teaspoon granulated garlic
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Toss the squash cubes in olive oil, then salt pepper and garlic. Spread them out on a sheet pan and roast them in the oven for 40 minutes, or until they are just starting to caramelize on the edges.