When fall arrives I look forward to so many things, and I've talked about several of them here (apples, pumpkin, football Sundays...). One that I haven't mentioned, which I just might love the most, is butternut squash. My stepfather grows it in his garden every year and I eagerly anticipate the day he'll drop by with a big bucket of freshly picked squash for me. If I store the squash down in my basement (think cool and dark) it keeps for quite a while (at least a month), though it rarely lasts that long since I could eat it almost every day without getting sick of it. Most often, I peel, seed and cube the squash then roast it on a sheet pan in the oven with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and something to add a touch of sweetness - generally either brown sugar, honey or maple syrup. My other favorite way to cook the squash is to boil it like you would potatoes, until fork tender. Then I drain the squash and either mash it with my potato masher or give it a quick whir in the food processor, adding butter, brown sugar and maybe cinnamon or nutmeg for flavor. Either way it's delicious!
Last week I mentioned trying some savory recipes for Thanksgiving this year, even though Shane and I won't be hosting. Someday I'm sure we will host the big meal and by then hopefully I'll have a stockpile of tried and true recipes we can turn to. Since I adore butternut squash so much it was a no-brainer that I'd start with a recipe which incorporated it. I found this one on Bon Appetit's site, and chose it for its simplicity as well as the technique it uses - braising! I love braised meat, but I've never braised a vegetable. Turns out it works wonderfully here with the squash! The squash tenderizes relatively quickly and is infused with the flavors of the braising liquid - chicken stock and maple syrup. This recipe was a definite hit here, and one I'd be happy to have grace my table at Thanksgiving :)
One final note - I know people avoid butternut squash because it's a bit of a pain to peel and chop. If you really don't want to tackle it, most stores sell squash already peeled, seeded and cubed, which certainly makes life easier. I had to learn to deal with whole squash since, as I mentioned, most of what I eat comes from my stepfather's garden. I've included instructions and photos below (pretend the lighting in my kitchen wasn't awful the night I took these shots) detailing the way I find easiest to cut my squash. Hopefully it helps!
Maple-Braised Butternut Squash with Fresh Thyme
from Bon Appetit, November 2010
(Note: I halved the recipe below and it worked just as well, though I did have to shorten the braising time of the squash to about 6 minutes (versus 8-10).)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
1 3- to 3 1/2-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/4 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Melt the butter in a large, deep skillet set over high heat. Add the cubed squash and saute for about 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, maple syrup, thyme, salt, and pepper to the pan. Bring to a boil then cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium, cooking the squash until it is almost tender, about 8-10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the squash to a large bowl. Boil the remaining liquid in the pan until thickened, 3-4 minutes. Return the squash to the skillet and cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Serve.
Ok, so how do you go from whole squash to cubed squash?
I start with a really sharp chef's knife - it makes a difference here, I promise. The first thing I do is cut the top 1/4-inch and bottom 1/4-inch from the squash. Then, I make a cut right above the bulbous part of the squash so I'm left with a long cylindrical piece and the bottom bulbous piece. I do this mainly because I think it's easier to tackle the next step - peeling - with two smaller pieces than one large one. I use my vegetable peeler to peel both halves of the squash. Once peeled, I cut the bulbous piece in half down the middle from top to bottom to expose the seeds and pulp. I've used various tools to remove the seeds and pulp, but most often go with either a metal spoon or my melon baller (here I used the melon baller, you can see it at the bottom of the photo). After you've removed the seeds and pulp, it's easy to cut the two halves of the bulbous end as well as the top cylindrical piece into cubes and proceed with cooking the squash.