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Butternut squash

Why Eat It
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Butternut, like the other winter squashes, has a lot more to offer, nutritionally speaking, than summer squashes and zucchini. Butternut's deep-orange flesh is richer in complex carbohydrates and, as you might guess by its color, in beta-carotene. Butternut squash is also a very good source of dietary fiber, and supplies vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, and a good amount of potassium.

Its dense, rich-tasting flesh is another good reason to eat butternut squash: Baked and mashed with a little maple syrup or brown sugar and sweet spices, the squash tastes very similar to pumpkin pie. Chunks or cubes of squash can be baked or can be added to hearty stews. And butternut has a softer skin than those of other winter squashes so it's easier to cut up.

Availability

Butternut squash is available year-round. The supply peaks in late summer and continues throughout the fall and winter.

Shopping

Butternut squashes range from about two to four pounds in weight; the size you buy will depend on your needs. There is no such thing as an "overgrown" winter squash; and the longer the squash grows, the sweeter it will be.

The squash's rind should be uniformly tan, with no tinge of green. The rind should be smooth and dry, free of cracks or soft spots. Also, the rind should be dull; a shiny rind indicates that the squash was picked too early, and will not have the full sweetness of a mature specimen.

The squash should feel heavy for its size. If possible, choose a squash with its stem attached as this is an indicator of quality: The stem should be rounded and dry, not collapsed, blackened, or moist.

Storage

Butternut and other winter squashes are among the best-keeping vegetables. Uncut squash should keep for three months or longer in a cool, dry place. Storage below 50°F (as in the refrigerator) will cause squash to deteriorate more quickly, but refrigerator storage is acceptable for a week or two. Uncooked cut squash will keep for up to a week if tightly wrapped and refrigerated.

Preparation

Rinse off any dirt before using. Although butternut has a softer rind than other winter squashes, it can still prove challenging to cut. Unless you need to halve the butternut squash lengthwise, it's far easier to deal with the squash (especially for peeling) if you cut it crosswise in half just at the place where the bulbous bottom narrows into the squash's "neck." Use a heavy chef's knife or a cleaver, especially for a larger squash. First, make a shallow cut in the skin to use as a guide to prevent the knife blade from slipping. Then place the blade in the cut and tap the base of the knife (near the handle) with your fist (or, if necessary, with a mallet or rolling pin) until the squash is cut through. You can then peel the neck piece (there are no seeds in this section). Halve the bulbous bottom so you can scoop out the seeds and fibers. If peeled chunks of squash are required, peel the larger pieces first, then cut them into smaller chunks, if desired.

Baking: This method brings out the sweetness in butternut squash, caramelizing some of its sugars--and best conserves its beta-carotene content. Bake halved squash and serve plain, or bake, then fill with a stuffing and return to the oven until the stuffing is heated through (10 to 15 minutes). You can also bake squash halves, then scoop out the flesh and mash it with your favorite seasonings, then spoon the mashed squash back into the shells (sprinkle with grated cheese, breadcrumbs, chopped nuts, or sesame seeds, if desired) and return to the oven until heated through. Baked squash can also be substituted for pumpkin in pies.

To bake, halve the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and strings (squash can also be seeded after baking). Or cut the squash into serving-size pieces. Place the squash, cut-side down, in a foil-lined baking pan (its sugary juices may burn onto the pan). Pour about 1/4" of water into the pan, cover with foil, and bake in a 350°F to 400°F oven until the squash is tender when pierced with a knife or toothpick. Halfway through baking, the squash halves (or pieces) may be turned, cut-side up, brushed with a little melted butter or oil, and sprinkled with brown sugar and spices. Cooking times: for squash halves, 40 to 45 minutes; for cut-up squash, 15 to 25 minutes.

Boiling: Although this method is faster than steaming, the boiling water will dilute the flavor of the squash. Place peeled squash pieces in a small amount of boiling water and cook until tender. Drain well. Cooking time: five minutes.

Microwaving: Arrange squash halves, cut-side up, in a shallow microwavable dish, cover, and cook until tender, rotating the dish halfway through the cooking time. You can also place large chunks of squash in a shallow microwavable dish, cover, and cook until tender. Let stand for five minutes after cooking. Cooking time: for squash halves, seven to 10 minutes; for chunks, eight minutes.

Sauteing: Grated or peeled, diced squash can be sauteed in broth, or in a combination of broth and oil. Use a nonstick skillet, if possible. Grated squash is best if it is cooked just to the point where it is still slightly crunchy. Cooking time: eight to 15 minutes.

Steaming: Place seeded squash halves, cut-side down, in a vegetable steamer and cook over boiling water until tender. Or, cook peeled chunks or slices of squash in the steamer. Cooking time: 15 to 20 minutes.

Nutrition Chart

Butternut Squash/1 cup cooked

82
Total fat (g)
0.2
Saturated fat (g)
0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Dietary fiber (g)
5.7
2
Carbohydrate (g)
22
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
8
Beta-carotene (mg)
8.5
Vitamin C (mg)
31
Magnesium (mg)
60
Manganese (mg)
0.4
Potassium (mg)
582


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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