Once you try these adorable baby butternuts, you'll never go back.
If winter squash are your favorite seasonal side dish, then we have great news for you. For the first time ever, mini butternut squash varieties have hit the market—and we're obsessed. The petite squash are no more than 6 inches long, and are the perfect single-serving vegetable.
The honeynut squash was developed by Cornell University Associate Professor Michael Mazourek in the department of plant breeding and genetics. When he took the faculty position, he set out to create a squash with the best flavor, nutrition, and yield. Through organic cross-pollination and selection in the field, Mazourek naturally created the adorable honeynut squash.
Because the squash is so tiny, the flavors are extremely concentrated. This yields a squash that's a bit dryer, but offers a finer texture, according to Mazourek. He says that the squash also has concentrated nutrients, so the honeynut has twice the beta carotene provitamin A than a butternut squash. Some say the flesh is nearly 10 times sweeter than a traditional butternut, though there's no way to quantify that.
The squash has a noticeably different interior and exterior from a butternut. The rind has a more caramel color and the inside reveals a deeper orange. The honeynut squash starts growing as a deep green, and turns caramel as it ripens. Mazourek says this is great for the consumer, because squash don't have a scent or a feel to show they are ripe. He recommends picking one that's mostly caramel colored—ripe honeynut squash are sweeter, more flavorful, and more nutritious.
As Mazourek was perfecting the flavor profile of the new squash, he began evaluating the crop by microwaving them and doing a taste test. Finally, he met Dan Barber, executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill in New York. Barber took the crop Mazourek was toying with and transformed it into something unworldly delicious. Barber roasted the squash to create what Mazourek describes as a totally transformed version. The flavors changed and deepened, creating a roasted, meaty interior and caramelized top.
He finally found the optimal way to enjoy his creation. Mazourek says, "I recommend roasting it at at 400 F to really bring out its flavor, but admit to popping them in the microwave for lunch when I am at work. It works because of the size and that the flavor is naturally there and so rich that it doesn't need much else." If you're going to microwave these little nuggets, he suggests using the potato button for the optimal cooking time.
To prepare, simply cut the honeynut lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and pop it in the oven. He adds that the rind itself is closer to a delicata squash, so it is entirely edible. Because of this, be wary of how long you keep it: The thin skin doesn't store as well as thicker-rined squash, so use it up quickly. But, the flavor profile is similar enough you can use it like a butternut squash in recipes. He suggests reducing sweet ingredients to compensate for the bolder, sweeter flavor.
The honeynut squash is quickly exploding in the marketplace. Meal-kit delivery service Blue Apron offers the little squash on many of their menus in dishes like spiced chicken and honeynut squash toastadas and seared chicken with roasted honeynut squash. Chef Barber also incorporates the squash in many of his tasting dishes, though this rotates frequently. In the past he served the vegetable accompanied by ingredients like smoked apple, pancetta marmalade, and strained yogurt, Edible Manhattan reported.
You can find this squash variety at many farmers' markets or through a CSA program. Additionally, you can purchase honeynut squash at your local Trader Joe's for 99 cents each, though availability may vary based on location. Mazourek also pointed out that you can purchase the seeds in both organic and non-organic varieties to grow your own. Now go get yourself one of these Instagram worthy squash!