Fill Your Belly with Rich Butternut Squash
A large part of what we love about Thanksgiving is that it's a traditional meal we share with family and friends. I bet you have a favorite dish that you look forward to, whether it's a green bean casserole, or your mom's special coconut layer cake. Mine is the cornbread dressing, whether it's homemade or bought at one of my favorite cafeterias. But if you're bringing a side dish to a family gathering, or if you're hosting and looking for something a bit different, do I have a squash for you!
Most of us are familiar with summer squash, like yellow crookneck or zucchini. If you're not very adventurous food-wise, however, you may not have tried any winter squash except for pumpkin. Some of the most common varieties are Hubbard, butternut, acorn, spaghetti and buttercup. The term "winter squash" includes any squash with a thick, tough skin. This is the best time to find winter squash in the produce section of your grocery store.
Butternut squash is my favorite. It has a light tan-colored skin and bright orange flesh inside, which is dense and sweet. Unlike some of the other varieties, it's easy to peel so you can use chunks of squash in recipes. You can find them in different sizes, but I find the smaller ones are easier to cut lengthwise, take less time to cook, and have a sweeter taste. There's another reason why I like them. I have a weakness for baby-sized vegetables. I suppose that's a holdover from my childhood. I loved anything miniature, especially my tiny set of china cups and saucers.
Besides being versatile, butternut squash is really delicious. Here are three ways you can serve it. Choose any one; it's sure to surprise and please the guests at your Thanksgiving table.
How to Bake Fresh Butternut Squash
- To cook peeled fresh butternut squash, cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds with a fork.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Place squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet lined with foil.
- Bake 45 minutes, or until squash is tender when pierced with a fork.
- Allow squash to cool, or using oven mitts, scrape the squash from the rind.
Butternut Squash as a First Course
If you're counting calories, which is tough enough on a regular basis, this soup is a wonderful way to start off your Thanksgiving feast. It looks and tastes like it's calorie rich, but each serving is a modest 140 calories.
If any of your guests aren't fond of sweet potatoes or whatever side dishes you're planning, offer them this dish instead. The spices make it a great accompaniment to either turkey or ham. When the others get a taste, they may prefer it, too, especially when they find out its low-calorie content. Makes it a lot easier to enjoy dessert later with no pangs of conscience.
Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
- 1-1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
- 4-1/2 pounds butternut squash (about 3 medium), each cut lengthwise in half and seeded
- 1 large onion (about 10 ounces), peeled and cut into quarters
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
- 3 cans (14 to 14-1/4 ounces each) chicken broth (total 5-1/4 cups)
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup water
- Plain low-fat yogurt (optional for garnish)
- Fresh chives and coarsely ground pepper for garnish
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Divide apples, squash (cut sides up), and onion between two 15-1/2x10-1/2-inch jellyroll pans or shallow large roasting pans.
- Drizzle with olive oil.
- Toss onion and apple quarters to coat with oil.
- In a cup, mix brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, salt, and pepper.
- Sprinkle spice mixture over ingredients in pans.
- Place pans on two oven racks. Roast 1 hour or until very tender and golden, rotating pans between upper and lower racks halfway through roasting time.
- Cool slightly.
- With a spoon, scoop out the flesh from squash halves and transfer to a medium-size bowl.
- Discard any dark, tough bottom layers from onion quarters.
- Cut onion and apples into large chunks.
- In a blender at low speed, blend one-third of the roasted vegetable mixture with 1 can broth until puréed.
- Pour puréed mixture into a 4-quart saucepan.
- Repeat two more times with the remaining vegetable mixture and broth.
- Add 2 cups water to puréed mixture and heat to boiling over high heat.
- Reduce heat to low.
- Cover and simmer 5 minutes to blend flavors.
- To serve the soup, ladle into individual soup bowls and swirl some yogurt into each serving, if desired.
- Garnish with chives and sprinkle with pepper.
Butternut Squash as a Side Dish
Spiced Butternut Squash
- In a 6-quart saucepot, heat oil over medium heat until hot, but not smoking.
- Add onion and cook until tender (about 5 minutes), stirring often.
- Add the garlic and cook an additional 30 seconds.
- Stir in the coriander, salt, cumin, red pepper and cinnamon.
- Cook 1 minute.
- Add the squash and 1/2 cup water.
- Cook, covered, for 15 minutes, or until squash is tender, gently stirring occasionally. (To keep squash from breaking up while you're stirring, use a rubber spatula.)
- Stir in the brown sugar, butter and cilantro until squash is well coated.
Butternut Squash as a Dessert Course
Pumpkin pie is the classic Thanksgiving dessert. I sure do look forward to it all year, but try this pie, too. And if you want to have some fun, don't tell anyone that it's not pumpkin or sweet potato. Let everyone take a taste, then ask them to guess what kind of pie it is. Do you think anyone will guess that it's butternut squash?
Butternut Squash Pie
- Flaky Pastry Crust (recipe follows) for a 9-inch pie
- 1-1/2 cups cooked and puréed butternut squash (use a blender or food processor)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon unbleached flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1-1/2 cups milk
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Flaky Pastry Crust
- 1-1/2 cups unbleached flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
- Approximately 1/4 cup ice water (as needed)
- Sift flour and salt together into a mixing bowl.
- Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
- Add the ice water a tablespoon at a time and blend until the dough forms clumps.
- You may not need the entire 1/4 cup of water.
- With your hands, combine the clumps and press together quickly into a smooth ball.
- Work the pastry as little as possible to ensure a tender crust.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 to 30 minutes.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out the pastry on a floured work surface.
- Roll pastry into an 11-inch circle.
- Line a 9-inch pie pan with the pastry, trim and crimp the edges, and set aside.
- With an electric mixer, beat the puréed squash, sugar, flour, salt, and spices in a large mixing bowl until well combined.
- Beat in the egg, milk, and melted butter.
- Continue beating until smooth.
- Spoon the filling into the unbaked pie shell.
- Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake in a 450°F preheated oven for 15 minutes.
- Then reduce the oven temperature to 325°F and bake until the filling is firm and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes more.