Butternut squash is a popular, versatile winter squash with a sweet, nutty flavor and bright orange color. In many ways, it's the quintessential winter squash, and can be used in savory dishes such as soups, stews, casseroles, and curries, as well as sweet ones such as pies, cakes, and muffins.
What Is Butternut Squash?
Butternut squash is a medium-sized winter squash that usually ranges in size from about 3 to 5 pounds. It's a variety of Cucurbita moschata, which also includes crookneck squash, fairytale pumpkins, and Dickinson pumpkins. It originated in Massachusetts as a crossbreed of the Canadian crookneck with the Hubbard squash.
Butternut squash is shaped like a bottle, with a long neck and a short bulbous end. Its skin is a dull tan color, and its flesh is bright orange, with a dense, moist texture and buttery, nutty, sweet flavor. The seeds and pulp are situated down toward the bulbous end, which means that the long "neck" of the fruit consists of all flesh. The skin is thin enough to eat, but most people prefer not to. It's usually peeled, either before or after roasting or steaming it.
How to Cook With Butternut Squash
In most cases, when preparing butternut squash, begin by slicing it lengthwise, and this can be intimidating due to the squash's long, irregular shape. Ideally, trim off a section from the bottom so that it stands straight and flat on the cutting board, along with a section off the top, and then slice straight downward using a sharp, heavy kitchen knife. This preserves the shape of the squash for presentation or for stuffing it. But if making a puree, slice it crossways, separating the neck portion from the bottom portion. Slicing each of those sections lengthwise is then much easier.
The most common way to cook butternut squash might be roasting, although it can also be simmered, steamed, or cooked in the microwave. It can even be grilled. Butternut squash soup is a classic dish, and the puree itself can be served as a side dish, like mashed potatoes. It's also great as a pie filling, as an ingredient in pasta dishes, risotto dishes, and casseroles, and as a pizza topping. Speaking of pasta—pureed butternut squash makes a great ravioli filling.
To roast a butternut squash, simply halve the squash lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and pulp, season with kosher salt, and either drizzle with olive oil or dot it with cold butter. It can also be peeled and cut it into cubes to roast. Butternut squash pairs well with brown sugar, maple syrup, and autumn spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. Roast on a sheet pan, in a 400 F oven for 25 to 30 minutes. When a sharp knife easily pierces the shell, it's done.
What Does It Taste Like?
As its name suggests, butternut squash has a rich, buttery, nutty pumpkin flavor, with a smooth, dry, starchy texture. Its flavor is similar to sweet potatoes, and some say it tastes a bit like carrots, especially when roasted.
Butternut Squash Recipes
Here are a few recipes that are specifically written for butternut squash, although it can be use in practically any recipe that calls for winter squash. They're often used in roasted savory dishes, soups, and pastas.
Where to Buy Butternut Squash
Butternut squash can be found sold whole at farmers markets in season (usually fall and winter) and supermarket produce departments year-round. Look for hard, firm squash that feels heavy for its size, with at least an inch of stem. They also should be free of soft spots, mold, or other blemishes. They can also be purchased pre-cut in supermarkets in the produce department.
A whole butternut squash will keep for up to 3 months when stored in a cool place away from sunlight. Once it's sliced, it will keep for 3 to 4 days in the fridge. Peeled and cubed, the squash can be frozen, or cook and puree it and then freeze the puree. Frozen squash will be good to eat for up to 12 months.