It takes a steady hand and a little nerve to hack into the armor-like skin on a butternut squash. Luckily, the skin is the only thing hard about the butternut. This time of year it's easy to find bagged cubes of peeled, seeded, and oven-ready butternut squash. Whole or bagged, the orange-gold squash is a great addition to an autumn meal. It has more texture than zucchini and a mild, nutty, pumpkin-like flavor that lends itself to spices (like cinnamon and cloves) and sweet mix-ins like brown sugar.
An easier option to peeling a whole squash is to halve it, remove the seeds, and bake the intact halves. When choosing a whole squash I opt for small to medium size because they're easier to handle. By the time the squash is soft enough to scoop out with teaspoon the skin is mottled brown and pliable. Mashed with butter and seasoned with salt and pepper it's a great no-fuss side dish. One of my favorite variations on this recipe is Maple-Mashed Butternut Squash.
Buying a bag of butternut squash already cut into cubes does not diminish the homemade nature of whatever you end up making. It's analogous to letting the butcher cut the meat into stew-size pieces. Toss the cubes in olive oil or melted butter and you're ready to get creative. Options to customize your squash include the following:
- Dried fruit such as cranberries, raisins, or chopped dried apricots,
- Diced apples or pears with some cinnamon and sugar
- Garlic and lemon juice - especially as a side with an Italian entrée or tossed with pasta.
For my Spicy Butternut Squash I add some fresh corn, slivered leeks, and red pepper flakes. It turns out a little sweet and medium hot.
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When butternut squash is in the oven you get a pleasant freebie. It makes your kitchen smell like Thanksgiving.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.