Butternut Basics

Butternut squash, with its golden-orange flesh, buttery smooth texture and touch of sweetness, is a stand-out ingredient in soups, stews, risottos, casseroles--even desserts. The pear-shaped, long-necked squash is in markets now through the winter.

Here are some tips for preparing it for a recipe:

  • For soft flesh that can be pureed or mashed, bake it in the skin: Soften the squash slightly by microwaving it on high for 1 ½ to 2 minutes, or just until the squash is warm to the touch. Let it stand for several minutes to cool before cutting. Place the squash on a towel so it won’t move around. Halve it lengthwise. Remove the strings and seeds, and place it cut-side down on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 400°F. 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until soft enough that the flesh can be scooped out.
  • For cubed squash that can be roasted or added to soups, stews or risottos, it must be peeled first: Microwave it first, as described above. Cut off the stem end, cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and strings. Remove the skin with a peeler or a utility knife. Cut the flesh into cubes and cook according to your recipe. For a shortcut, look for peeled and cubed butternut squash in your store.
  • For sliced or grated squash, prepare as for cubed squash but rather than cutting into cubes, grate or slice the squash by hand or use a food processor.