That bulbous, heavy-as-a-newborn butternut squash can be a little intimidating on the approach. The exterior can feel Fort Knox impenetrable, the stringy, seedy section a chore to remove, and the length of cooking time required off putting. But to put that squash back down in the shopping aisle is to miss out on a super versatile, sweet and nutty flesh, and myriad health benefits (a strong source of fibre, vitamin C and potassium, to name but a few). Don’t be daunted; here are 5 IDEAL ways to cook with butternut squash.
Firstly, let’s talk about breaking this damn thing down. You can use a Y-shaped peeler, if you’re willing to invest in a new one every time you fancy squash (it’s going to get blunt). Alternatively, you can cut a little off the base of the squash so it stands steadily on your board, and ‘shave’ off the skin by cutting downwards around the flesh (cutting the squash in two, crosswise, makes this easier). Or, you can half the squash lengthways, simply roast in the skin and scoop out the flesh once it’s soft enough. All of this said, the skin, in theory, is edible. It’s just not very nice.
Now that’s done, let’s talk about method. There is something about roasting squash which brings out all the inherent beauty of the vegetable*. Its sweetness is intensified, its nuttiness elevated, and its texture transitions from starchy to creamy, meaty and giving. We all know those browned edges equate to pure deliciousness, so be patient. And for that reason, we love to cube our squash into pieces larger than a dice but slightly smaller than your average roast potato (is that an acknowledged measure of size?). Then, season generously with salt, scatter with whole sprigs of thyme or rosemary, and cover with a generous glug of olive oil.
If you’ve chosen to half the squash lengthwise and roast in the skin, then scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff, and fill that cavity with butter, salt and those hardy herbs we already mentioned. Lovely stuff. Either way, roast for at least 40 minutes, potentially longer, until there are places of caramelisation and the flesh yields to a knife, but isn’t complete mush.
Enjoy: in a warm salad of goats cheese, borlotti beans and caramelised red onion, with a vinaigrette. Or, with brown rice cooked in vegetable stock in the oven, finished with pine nuts and feta.
*yep, we know that botanically, it’s a fruit. But as a sage once said ‘a wiseperson knows tomatoes are a fruit, but only a fool would put them in a fruit salad’.
You could do this with the roasted pieces, but the excessive richness might be a bit much. Rather, in the case of making a puree, we prefer the purity of cooking cubes of squash in cream or milk (personal preference), low and slow on the hob until tender. Then, lift those pieces out of the liquid with a slotted spoon and into a food processor. Blend well, adding a little of the cream to loosen it as required. Then, pass through a sieve so it’s super smooth. Of course, season well with salt, perhaps some pepper, a squeeze of lemon if the sweetness if overpowering, and even a little grated nutmeg.
Enjoy: with a roasted game bird such as pigeon or guinea fowl, as a sweet counterpoint to the ‘gamey’ flavour. Or, mixed with soft cheese as a filling for ravioli.
Alternatively, you could let down that puree you just made with some stock to make a soup. Chicken stock, perhaps even a roasted, brown stock, works well but for vegetarians, of course a vegetable stock also brings body and extra flavour. Simply warm both the stock and the puree in separate pans and whisk to combine (the ratios you use depends on how thick you like your soup). Enrichen with a little cream, if that’s your thing, or perhaps add some parmesan. Garnish with croutons and some roasted butternut squash seeds, for a really lovely feeling of synergy.
Enjoy: as it is, as a soothing lunchtime winter warmer, or with some crostinis of goat’s cheese and rosemary for a larger meal.
The almost meaty texture of butternut squash (either roasted or steamed) and the way it soaks up flavour whilst retaining its integrity lends itself so well to curries. In Thailand, in particular, you’ll find many rich, unctuous curries with butternut squash as the headlining act, made rich with coconut cream and dried spices, it’s just delicious. A nourishing, healthy bowl from the Indian subcontinent using squash and chickpeas is another delicious way to harness the power of the versatile root veg.
Enjoy: as a midweek, lunchbox treat, or as part of a wider ‘family style’ sharing spread dinner
Yep, technically the butternut squash is a fruit. Kinda makes sense, then, that it works so well in desserts. Sub out your pumpkin for squash in a pumpkin pie, puree it and bake it in a loaf, or channel the intelligent, inventive cooking of East Asia and use it for all manner of desserts. In Thailand and Cambodia, squash is often paired with sweetened coconut cream, or a duck egg custard made even more decadent with palm sugar. In Japan, a flan-like squash pudding is popular.
Enjoy: as a unique accompaniment to afternoon tea, or guilt free after a big meal, muttering ‘one of my five-a-day’.