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What’s for dinner? (9.28.08 Part 1)

September 29, 2008

Although the original menu called for grilled steaks with balsamic glazed cippoline onions, in the end, the day’s cool breezes just screamed for soup (for the second Sunday in a row). Butternut Squash Soup is one of my favorites (truth be told, they’re all my favorites), and it sounded delicious with Garlic Knots and a fruit salad of some sort.

Preparing Butternut Squash for Soup

The Waltham in the foreground, and an Early variety from my 2007 crop, which was still good.

The Waltham in the foreground, plus an Early variety from my 2007 crop, which was still in good shape from careful storage.

My own butternuts are still about a month away from harvesting, so I had to turn to a different, last minute resource for butternut squash. For some strange reason, there’s only one store in the area that I know of that carries frozen prepared butternut squash (and it’s out of my way and ridiculously expensive to boot), so I bought a nice, long-necked, organic Waltham butternut from Kroger. (Being that it was an eleventh hour menu change, I didn’t look for butternuts at the local farmers’ market the day before.) Preparing whole butternuts is not high on my list of favorite cooking tasks, but, the effort is always worth it.

Choosing butternuts: Where’s the meat?

Looking at a butternut, you might be tempted to think, “the bigger the ball end, the better.” Oh, no no no. That’s where the seeds are located – you’ll get very little usable flesh out of that area. It’s the neck that’s key. The larger, longer, thicker the neck, the better. I like the Waltham variety because they’re practically all neck (as in the photo above). I grow an Early variety, which tend to have shorter, but thicker, necks than the Walthams. Next year, I’m going to grow both, as the Early variety didn’t do so hot this year.

The main point to keep in mind is that if you’re following a recipe that calls for X lbs of butternut squash, you can’t just go to the produce section, weigh your squash and run screaming. The seed pod is going to take up a good chunk of the weight of a whole butternut, so, make sure you buy enough to compensate (if you buy too much, don’t worry, butternuts store very well in cool conditions (like a dry basement)).

Preparing butternuts

Butternuts have to be peeled. I wouldn’t, however, recommend using a vegetable peeler. Raw butternut flesh is very hard, as is the peel – you’ll be cursing the whole squash family after just a few swipes. I also wouldn’t recommend using a knife to carve the peel off of a raw butternut. Butternuts are heavy and awkward, and there’s a good chance you end up carving off some of your own peel instead.

I like to roast my butternuts before peeling – it softens both the flesh and peel, and cooks the squash evenly. Slice the squash in half lengthwise; slice off the seed pod and discard (it’s rarely worth trying to salvage the little usable flesh surrounding the seed pod); spray the flesh side with non-stick spray; place the halves flesh side down in a pan with about an inch of water; place pan in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the flesh is easily pierced.

Put 'em in a water bath, bake and ...

Put 'em in a water bath, bake and then ...

... let 'em cool down

... take 'em out and let 'em cool down

Remove the squash from the pan and allow to cool. When you can safely handle the squash, slice the neck into sections and carve the flesh from the skin (which is much easier now that the flesh is tender). Cut the peeled slices into cubes. They’re now ready to use in your recipe (you can also freeze them at this point). Note that if your recipe calls for cooking times based on raw squash, simply reduce the time – you’ve already gotten a head start thanks to the roasting process.

Slice the neck in even strips.

Slice the neck in even strips.

Use a paring knife to carve the flesh away from the peel.

Use a paring knife to carve the flesh away from the peel.

Finally, slice the sections into cubes.

Finally, slice the sections into cubes.

And for the finale – a little onion, a little garlic, some stock, some cream, some grated apple, some cinnamon, nutmeg and cayenne pepper – and voila, Butternut Squash Soup:

Soups on!

Soups on!

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