Selecting and Preparing Butternut Squash
Unlike its cousin zucchini, butternut squash has a hard, inedible exterior. A lot of chefs prefer this squash for its thick flavor, amazing nutritional benefits, and flexibility in the kitchen. Many have also realized that it’s worth cooking in cold weather. Here’s what you need to know about purchasing, cooking, and making the most out of butternut squash.
In an article in Smithsonian, Alastair Bland shares several interesting facts about butternut squash. Bland stated:
“The height of autumn, highlighted by the twin food-friendly holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving, is also the height of winter squash season. It’s the time when outdoor fruit stands that previously were piled high with melons and stone fruits become dedicated to heaps of rock-hard orbs and saucers of all sizes, shapes, and colors.
Chances are you’re most familiar with the butternut, and perhaps the acorn and the spaghetti types. But these winter squashes represent just the tip of the pile, and there are dozens more that many people know little to nothing about. Many of them trump even the acclaimed butternut squash with flesh that is starchier, sweeter, and sappier.”
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Butternut squash produces bigger yields than many other types of squashes, and lasts longer in storage, making it a good choice for farmers, according to Thaddeus Barsotti, squash savant and co-owner of Capay Organic, a Northern California farm. Barsotti says that this is a main reason the butternut has come to dominate the market, leaving other winter squashes – such as the delicata, the buttercup, and the sweet dumpling, on the fringe.
In fact, winter squashes, which fall into the genus Cucurbita and once were a key dietary staple in Mesoamerica, have mostly vanished from the American’s cultural pantry.
“We’ve really lost our connection with winter squash,” says Chris Gunter, a vegetable production specialist at North Carolina State University. “A lot of people have no idea what to do with them, and a lot of us are reluctant to try new foods.”
For a prospective shopper, the tough rind on many squashes can be an immediate deterrent to bringing one of those big, clunky things home. The relatively long cook time can also be a turnoff.
“People don’t want to wait 45 minutes for their dinner to cook in the oven,” Gunter says.
The irony is, few kitchen tasks are easier than putting a squash into a hot oven. What’s more, baked winter squash is delicious. While more ambitious chefs may blend butternut or kabocha squash into soup, simmer it in coconut milk curries, or puree and drizzle it as a sauce over pasta, the simplest prep method is hard to beat.
“Baking them is just the best way,” says Barsotti, whose favorite winter squash is the delicata. “You get the real taste of the squash. I like a good butternut squash soup, but what you’re really tasting is the cream and the salt and that other stuff.” Whatever kind of winter squash you’re cooking, Barsotti suggests slicing it in two, scooping out the seeds, and baking the halves for about 40 minutes at 400 to 425 degrees. It doesn’t hurt to oil and salt them first, but it’s by no means necessary.
With that in mind, the following are eight of the best winter squashes now appearing in markets near you. Look closely – they’re likely hiding just behind the butternut heap.
Marlene Geiger of Iowa State University gave some helpful hints in selecting and preparing butternut squash:
Begin by selecting a squash that has a smooth, even, tan colored skin, free of blemishes, cracks, or soft spots. The stem should be brownish and woody looking. Look for the ones with the longest, fattest necks, as this is the “meaty” part of the squash; the seeds are found in the bulbous lower part. Butternut squash come in various sizes weighing between 1 ½ to 5 pounds. One pound of squash becomes roughly 2 cups of cooked squash, or 2 cups cubed.
There are several ways to peel squash. The method really depends upon the intended use. If it is to be used as a puree, it is not necessary to peel it at all. It can be sliced in half, length-wise, seeds removed, placed face-down in a lightly oiled baking dish, and baked in a moderate oven (350F) until tender; it can also be microwaved in the same manner.
After cooling, the soft flesh can be scooped out and used for pumpkin pie, soups, breads, and desserts (The pulp can also be run through a food processor if desired for an even smoother texture). If the recipe calls for cubed squash, the peel needs to be removed. Good Housekeeping offers an excellent tutorial on peeling and cubing squash. Cubed squash can be roasted, steamed, cooked, or pureed. Cubed butternut is typically added to recipes raw, and is cooked along with the other ingredients.
Here in our recipe, butternut squash should be cut into cubed-sized pieces. 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 this 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 do 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, as explained by Hannah Raskin of All Recipes.
One of a Kind Yukon Gold Potatoes
So where did Yukon Gold potatoes come from, and how did they become so popular??
According to Idaho Potatoes, the Yukon Gold is one of those overnight success stories, that only took years and years to happen. A Canadian researcher became aware of this yellow-flesh potato in 1959. He started working with the light skinned potato in 1966, and finally, in 1980, he was asked to name the potato he had developed. In the words of plant biologist Gary Johnston, “I suggested the name Yukon, for the Yukon River and gold rush country, and Charlie Bishop suggested we add the word gold, so it officially became YUKON GOLD.
To succeed I believed that the Yukon Gold would require good publicity. Harowsmith, a national magazine, published an article I wrote called ‘There’s Gold in these hills.’ Shortly after, I was asked to do several interviews for TV and radio. I did one for a radio station in Yellowknife, N.W.T. Later, the magazine American Vegetable Grower did an article ‘Yukon Gold Goes Upstairs’ with the front-page coverage.
The biggest boost came when two large Ontario, Canada growers printed YUKON GOLD in large letters on their very attractive 10-pound paper packages sold in many supermarkets. This enabled customers, if they liked the product, to come back and ask for the same variety by name.”
In the Huffington Post article, A Guide to Every Type of Potato You Need to Know, “Potatoes fall into two important categories that impact the outcome of your dish: starchy and waxy (plus a category that lies somewhere in between those two).”
Picking Your Perfect Squash
Starchy - Like the classic Idaho or Russet, these potatoes are (obviously) high in starch and low in moisture. They’re fluffy, making them great for boiling, baking and frying, but they don’t hold their shape well, so they should be avoided in dishes like casseroles, gratins and potato salads.
Waxy - Like Red Bliss or New Potatoes, these have a low starch content and are often characterized by a creamy, firm, and moist flesh that holds its shape well after cooking. They’re typically great for roasting and boiling, and in casseroles and potato salads.
All-Purpose - These potatoes have a medium starch content that fall somewhere in between the starchy and waxy potatoes. They’re a true multi-purpose potato, and can be used for just about any cooking application. A classic example of this type of potato is the Yukon Gold.
Easy Nootropic Butternut Squash Soup
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 butternut squash, chopped into cubes
2 Yukon gold potatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 carrot, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh Thai basil leaves, chiffonade
950 ml vegetable stock
2 scoops Momental MIND Nootropic
- Preheat oven to 400F. Prepare a large baking sheet.
- In a bowl toss olive oil, butternut squash, and Yukon gold potatoes with salt and pepper.
- Layer on a baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes.
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Sauté garlic until aroma comes out, add celery, and carrots. Cook for 10 minutes, until tender.
- Add roasted butternut squash and Yukon Gold potatoes to the saucepan. Stir and add vegetable broth. Allow to boil and lower down the heat simmer.
- Using an immersion blender, blend everything until creamy. At this point the nootropic powder can be added with a quick stir. Alternately, a blender can be used - just carefully scoop hot batches into the equipment.