Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Recipe: Butternut Squash

I hated squash growing up. But I was forced to eat it, at least at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was always mashed to a fare-thee-well, and served without any seasoning (which, in part, explains my early penchant for over salting everything!) Somewhere in the mid-1970s, a butternut squash got left behind in my kitchen; I couldn't just throw it out, or let it rot, so . . .

here's what you'll need . . .
1 butternut squash
½ Tbsp. Butter (or more)
pinch of ground nutmeg
sprinkle of ground cinnamon
salt & freshly ground pepper

Here's how you do it.
Pre-heat your oven to 350° F.

Whack the bulbous end off the squash using your Chinese knife (or your Chef's knife, or a hatchet, or whatever . . .) If you aim properly, you'll end up with a solid stem-end of the squash, and the bulb end with all the seeds and pulp in it.

Butternut squash cut

Put the bulb end cut-side down and cut it in half. Use a teaspoon or tablespoon to scoop out all the pulp and seeds, scraping the surface until it's smooth. (If you're into making your own stock, toss the pulp and seeds into the stockpot, or you can bake the seeds for a crunchy snack, or you can just chuck 'em.) And, no, don't peel the squash!

 Butternut squash split

Now cube the squash (and trim off the hard brown root connection from the bottom of the bulb halves and the stem round from the top of the stem part). We like smallish cubes about ½ to 1" on a side, but feel free to make them larger if you like. They're going to be covered while they cook, so they'll steam thoroughly no matter what size you make them.

 Butternut squash cubed

Find a shallow baking dish that will hold the squash cubes in 1 or 2 layers (no more!) without peaking up over the edge of the dish (much). Depending on the level of your 'butter fear', either grease the baking dish with butter, or spread a few drops of olive oil in the bottom. Like most vegetables, the squash contains enough water to float an ark, but just in case, a little grease to keep anything from sticking to the dish is always a good idea.

Toss the squash cubes into the dish. Grind some Tellicherry across the top (add a pinch of salt, if you must). Sprinkle enough ground nutmeg over the surface so you can barely see it (nutmeg can become bitter when it cooks, so you want enough to flavor the dish, but not so much that you end up with a bitter taste), and then sprinkle a goodly dusting of cinnamon over everything. Dot the top of the dish with pats or daubs of butter or a goodly blob of butter substitute. Cover the baking dish or seal it with a tent of aluminum foil (just a little space above the squash), and put it in the oven for 25 - 35 minutes (longer for mushier, shorter for sturdier texture).

 Butternut squash ready to cook

Serve with beef, chicken, turkey, pork, swordfish, or . . .

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