Winter squashes are among the most colorful and diverse cold-weather vegetables, coming in a wide range of shapes, sizes and hues. One of the most enjoyed is butternut squash, which offers an unusually high percentage of usable flesh compared to most of its cousins. It's usually roasted to a softened form, but you may boil it, if you prefer.
Although butternut squash is closely related to zucchini and other summer squashes, it has little in common with them culinarily. In the kitchen, its rich, sweet flavor and dense flesh have more in common with root vegetables, such as carrots, rutabagas and sweet potatoes. Because of this, it's often included with them in "root vegetable" mixtures, although it grows on a vine like pumpkins and other squash. Butternut squash is unusually hard, so preparing one requires a sharp blade and a strong hand.
Prep a Butternut
Roasting a butternut squash is relatively easy, requiring just one cut to split the vegetable in half so you can scoop out its seeds. Boiling one is more of a project, because the rind is thick and the flesh underneath it is very hard. You can peel one with a paring knife or a sharp Swiss-style peeler, but it requires some significant hand strength. It's easier if you blanch the whole squash first in a pot of boiling water. Lower the butternut gently into the boiling water, taking care not to let it overflow, and blanch it for two minutes. When you remove the squash, its rind will be softer and should peel away easily.
Butternut squash is unusually hard, and cutting it into slices or cubes can require both a very sharp knife and a substantial amount of force. If you need to slice or dice a butternut, parboiling it first can make it much easier. Cut the squash into halves, wedges or thick rounds, depending on the final shape you want. Lower the squash pieces carefully into boiling water and simmer them gently for six to eight minutes, depending on their size. This is long enough to soften the pieces slightly, without making them needlessly mushy. Drain and cool the pieces, then cut them to the desired shape and size.
Cooking at a Boil
Boil squash until it's completely cooked by dicing the pieces to half-inch cubes and simmering them in just enough water or broth to cover them. They're tender after about 10 minutes. Simmer larger pieces until they're fork-tender, then drain them and mash them for puree. This is a useful option if your oven is filled with other foods, such as a holiday turkey. Mashed butternut can be slightly watery if it's boiled rather than roasted, so it's helpful to return your pot to the stovetop after you drain and mash the squash. Cook it gently over low heat, stirring regularly, so the excess moisture can evaporate.
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