Thursday, January 28, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash ~ Hurry, It's Almost Spring!

To me, winter is bearable only up to January 1. After that, it's just a long spell of hunkering down in more layers than a mille-feuille, waiting out the short days and trying not to cry. Oh, sure, there's Valentine's Day, and that's always good for a day and a night of merrymaking. But as partial as I am to romance and roses and profiteroles, I'd throw the whole shebang right out of the car window for an extra week of spring. (And please, do not even mention the cruel, false-hope-perpetrating farce that is Groundhog Day. Shadow or no shadow, we're still going to see 6 more weeks of winter. Think about it!)

I know I sound bitter, but winter does that to me. It seems my spirits sink with the prematurely setting sun. I can't help it! I'm a summer baby ~ give me dog days, sweltering nights, and enough humidity to put a permanent curl in my hair and I'm on Cloud 9. Winter, on the other hand, is my winter of discontent.

Luckily, I'm a functional optimist . . . or something along those lines. I can achieve a cheerful outlook by cultivating a positive sort of denial. For example, I look at the calendar and see that it is still January, which is, of course, officially the grimmest month of the year. Although I am thinking, "Sweet mother of pearl, how can I possibly survive all those weeks of winter!?" I say, out loud, "Well, would you look at that! It's almost spring. Yes, thank goodness, spring is right around the corner!" And then I proceed to tell this to anyone who will listen. Which is ridiculous, because it's January, and spring is nowhere in sight. But this makes me feel better, so I'm committed to it.

Another thing that makes me feel better in a "look on the bright side, dang it" kind of way is recognizing that winter does have a few perks, at least vegetable-wise. Specifically, I refer to squash. I really like squash. I mean, I don't give it a second thought in July when I am happy and tan and eating sun-warmed tomatoes straight from my garden, but here in the bleak dead zone that is midwinter, squash is nice. And it's good for us. (Unlike pretty much everything else about winter.)

Nutritionally speaking, butternut squash is an excellent source of vitamin A and a very good source of vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and manganese. Throw in some folate, omega-3 fatty acids, copper, and a handful of different B vitamins and you've got a decent little vegetable to snuggle next to your comforting meatloaf. And all those phytonutrients give it a really nice orange color ~ just like the sun in August.

Plus, it's not hard to peel if you have a decent peeler or a sharp kitchen knife. {And while we're on the subject of peelers, let me just recommend this one, by Kuhn Rikon. I've gotta tell you, this inexpensive little beauty is one of the best kitchen implements I own. I have two, which I bought for about 3 bucks apiece at a pro kitchen-supply place. I use one at home, and I keep one in the toolkit I bring to work. This blade takes an enormous amount of use without dulling. It'll strip your butternut in a flash.}

Okay, so, if you don't have an awesome peeler like mine, you can do the job with a decent kitchen knife. Just cut off each end, stand the squash upright, and run the knife vertically from top to bottom to remove strips of peel. Slice the peeled squash in half lengthwise, then scoop out and discard the seeds and stringy pulp.

The easiest way to cube the squash is to then cut it into crosswise slices, then cut the slices into large dice. Put your diced butternut squash in a large mixing bowl and we're ready to go.

Roasting butternut squash caramelizes its natural sugars without giving it the unpleasant sogginess that sometimes results from steaming or boiling. I've deliberately kept this recipe as basic as possible so the focus stays on the intensified flavors of the squash itself. Feel free, though, to experiment, if you like. Dot the finished squash with a bit of butter; sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar; chop up a tart baking apple and toss that in with the squash.

Roasted Butternut Squash
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with nonstick pan spray.
  2. Drizzle cubed squash with a few tablespoons of olive oil; toss to coat evenly.
  3. Spread squash cubes out in a single layer on the baking sheet. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper.
  4. Bake at 425 degrees until fork tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. (This time will differ given certain variables like the ripeness of your squash and the size of your dice. Check the tenderness at 15 minutes, then every 5 minutes thereafter, by piercing a cube with a fork ~ the fork should meet with only slight resistance.)

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

5 comments:

  1. Perfection! I just came home with one of these beauties a few days ago, and hadn't decided yet what to do with it. Now I know. :)

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  2. This looks delicious! I've learned from your pics that I have been cutting it the hard way, this makes more sense. Loving the SpringIt option too.

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  3. That looks beautifully simple. I adore butternut squash!

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  4. We are on the same wave length. I've made this twice in past week. Here's my secret ingredient. During last 5-10 minutes, add in shaved leeks. It's amazing, and I could have this as my meal.

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  5. Thanks, everyone! Angela ~ great idea re: the shaved leeks . . . I don't use leeks nearly enough and this sounds like a perfect pairing!

    ~Best,
    Sandy

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