Enjoy the versatile squash in both savory and sweet dishes.
Credit: Photo: Ditte Isager

We refer to the steep ravine behind our house as Death Valley. The area is far too steep for us to incorporate into our landscaping, but it's a handy place to tip grass clippings, tree trimmings, and other yard debris.

One day last year, I pitched half of a butternut squash into the ravine. Imagine my delight a couple months later when I noticed a beautiful vine decked with baby squash down the hill: A crop of my favorite squash had volunteered in my yard.

I love butternut squash for its sweet flavor, silky texture, and amiable adaptability in the kitchen. I use it in both savory and sweet dishes. It's the easiest of all the winter squashes to cook, because its smooth skin just pares away with a potato peeler, and its pulp cooks relatively fast. It seems to have fewer seeds than the rest of the winter squash family, and there's no mistaking it at the supermarket. Butternut squash is always the same; all you have to decide is whether you want a big one or a small one. I always want a big one.

Soon my crop of squash will be ready to harvest. I will clamber down the hill to pick as many as I can. Rest assured that I'll throw at least one back into Death Valley, with high hopes for next year. (See More: Butternut Squash Recipes)

Butternut Basics

  • Look for a squash that has no cracks or soft spots and is heavy for its size.
  • Butternut squash will keep for months in a cool, dry place.
  • When a recipe calls for mashed squash, the easiest way to prepare it is to cut the squash in half vertically, and remove the seeds and fibers with a spoon. Place the halves, cut sides down, in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Add water to a depth of 1 inch, and bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes or until tender-when you can pierce the squash easily with a small knife. (You can also microwave the squash at high 10 to 15 minutes.) Let the squash cool, then scoop the pulp out with a spoon, and mash the pulp with a potato masher. One pound uncooked butternut squash will yield about 1 cup mashed.
  • When the recipe calls for chopped, peeled squash (uncooked):
     1. Cut the squash in half and remove its seeds and fibers with a spoon.
     2. Peel the squash with a vegetable peeler, cut it in cubes, and proceed.