Fall has really arrived, so I once again have a stash of butternut squash in my "root cellar," otherwise known as my garage. It is unheated and is "tucked under" my house instead of being detached, so it is the perfect place to store all kinds of fruits and vegetables throughout the fall and winter. Last year, some of the apples, squash and potatoes I bought in bulk at local orchards and vegetable stands lasted into March and even early April.
With excellent past storage experience, I really stocked up when a local produce market had squash for 19 cents a pound. Today, one of my favorite supermarkets had those same varieties for $1.19 a pound, so I was able to save $80 just with the advance buying.
Yup, you did the math right; I now have eighty pounds of squash ready for baking, cooking, and experimenting. I'll be sharing some of the recipes I've found in coming posts, but first some basic squash cookery hints:
- An important step not to be missed in any of the following hints--pierce a whole squash in several places. From experience, I can tell you, this is an important step, unless you really enjoy cleaning up after a squash explosion in your oven or microwave.
- Most winter squashes can be used interchangeably in recipes that call for squash puree. Acorn, buttercup, etc., may be used in most butternut squash recipes, though the other varieties sometimes have a more pronounced "squashy" flavor that might stand out more than you'd like.
- It is easier to peel and seed a cooked winter squash rather than a raw one. For any recipe that calls for mashed or pureed squash, just poke some holes in several places in a washed, whole butternut squash, put on a baking tray (to save oven clean up) and bake at 350 to 375 degrees. Baking time will vary depending on the size of the squash, so you just test for doneness by squeezing the thickest part or inserting a fork there. The squash should be quite soft at this point. Remove from the oven and allow to cool just enough to handle. Cut in half, remove the seeds and seed fibers (a grapefruit spoon works well for this) and then scoop out the pulp.
- To peel and cube a raw squash, pierce the washed squash in several places and then microwave it for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size--perhaps a minute or so less for small squash. This step softens the squash enough to make peeling easier without actually cooking it. Allow it to cool just enough to handle before peeling and cubing.
- Roasting can add a lot of flavor to your squash, just as with other vegetables. Cut small to medium washed butternut squash in half, remove seeds, and place cut side up on a tray. Brush lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt (and herbs or other seasoning of choice) and bake at 400 to 425 degrees until the thickest part is easily pierced with a fork and the flesh is golden and "roasted." This can be served as is or put in a processor or blender for additional flavor in other dishes calling for squash puree.
- Whenever you have the oven on for other reasons, wash a squash, pierce it and put it on a baking sheet next to whatever you are baking--"free" energy! If you are just baking squash for a specific recipe, put in a couple of extras to puree and freeze for another time. Time and money saving. It takes no longer to bake an oven full of squash than it does to bake just one.
- Butternut squash puree freezes well. Since many recipes call for a cup, measure one cup servings into small, inexpensive sandwich bags. Lay flat on a cookie sheet and freeze. When solidly frozen, stack the bags inside a gallon freezer bag and label with the date. This provides a double layer of protection, takes minimal space in the freezer, and gives you a ready source of puree for the increasing number of uses you are sure to find for squash.
- Home canning is not recommended for squash puree (pumpkin either) since the material is so dense, it is almost impossible with non-commercial equipment to be sure the center reaches a high enough temperature long enough to kill all bacteria--including the very dangerous botulism.
To get you started, here are links to a couple of soups that include squash puree for full flavor, color, and nutrition.