Butternut squash, unlike its cousin, zucchini, has a tough, inedible exterior. But cooks who appreciate the squash's rich flavor, impressive nutritional benefits, and kitchen versatility have learned that it's well worth freeing this cold-weather favorite from its thick shell. It's not as difficult as you might think. Here's all you need to know about buying, cooking, and enjoying butternut squash.
The Nutritional Benefits of Butternut Squash
Butternut squash, which looks a bit like a juggling club, is a primary American crop, dating back thousands of years. In terms of flavor, it's similar to pumpkin, and can almost always be substituted for that fellow curcubita in a recipe. Appearance-wise, the orange flesh of butternut squash most closely resembles sweet potatoes.
Although butternut squash is notably sweet, especially when cooked, it's packed with nutrients, particularly vitamins A and C. Compared to sweet potatoes, butternut squash has less sugar, fewer calories, and fewer carbs, although sweet potatoes have a shade more protein and fiber. Butternut squash seeds are standalone champs in the healthful eating category, containing plenty of protein and good fats.
Selecting and Storing Butternut Squash
If growing your own butternut squash, it's critical that you don't pick the plant too soon, since the sugars won't have developed fully. Yet if you delay harvesting too long, the squash will turn to mush. Aim to pick butternut squash from your garden when its stem is brown and it's impossible to prick its skin with your fingernail.
At the grocery store or farmers market, seek out butternut squashes that are heavy for their size and sport matte shells that aren't cracked or tender; the same fingernail test that works in the garden applies here.
As for storing, it's best to keep it in a cool, dry place. Uncured butternut squash will last at least a month; if you cure the squash by exposing it to temperatures in excess of 80 degrees for 10 days straight, it can last as long as six months.
Preparing Butternut Squash
To break down a squash for cooking, use a sharp knife to remove an inch or so at either end. At this point, you could microwave the squash for three or four minutes to soften the skin. Either way, you'll then take a sharp knife to the squash. Stand the half squash on a cutting board and slice away the shell . Cut the squash at its neckline so the crook and body can be dealt with separately. Cut the body lengthwise and scrape out the seeds (you can dispose of them, or roast for a snack.)
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Cooking Butternut Squash
Here's how to cook butternut squash. Roasting could not be simpler - just cut into cubes after preparing, toss with a bit of olive oil, and then bake. Here's an easy recipe:
"Butternut squash is so good on its own that barely any seasoning is needed. This recipe is so simple and easy," says MChele. You'll roast the butternut squash in the oven long enough for the squash to become tender and lightly browned, about 25 to 30 minutes.
In this method, the squash is prepared as above and then halved, then baked in a pan filled with water.
Baking is also the first step to creating mashed butternut squash.
Microwaving Butternut Squash
Butternut squash is easy to cook in the microwave as well: Once you've prepared the squash, cut it into the cubes. Then place the cubes in a microwave-safe bowl with about one-half of a cup of water; cover with plastic wrap and cook until tender. Once cooked, you could use for a soup.