This Thanksgiving, Mom requested butternut squash soup and grilled cheese. I made enough to freeze for easy meals in December, and I’m glad I did … this soup may be simple, but it’s gooood.
Butternut squash and a whole-grain risotto are hearty match made in heaven. I came across this risotto technique in the wonderful Ideas in Food blog, by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot, who are also the authors of the new book Ideas In Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work (Clarkson Potter). They experimented with soaking arborio rice, then adding hot stock, and cooking it for 6 minutes to yield wonderful, creamy risotto. It’s a great technique to use with whole grains like farro or barley to reduce the cooking time yet enjoy creamy risotto-like results with tender yet al dente grains. In fact, this is now the only I make whole-grain risotto. The plan-ahead involves nothing more than putting the grains in a pot to soak before you go to work in the morning. To make the meal come together even more quickly on a weeknight, peel and cube the squash the night before.
I’ve talked to a lot of people lately who are intimidated by winter squash. The first barrier they site is the impenetrable shell of skin: Whereas summer squash can be eaten skin, seed and all, only the flesh is edible on winter squash. The second is the daunting variety. Which are edible, what do they taste like, what can you substitute and how do you cook them?
We’ve got answers here in our winter squash guide … to butternut and beyond.
Choosing a squash: In general, you want a squash that is firm and heavy for its size. If you feel any soft spots or mold, take a pass.
What’s inside? Winter squash are nutritional powerhouses loaded with beta carotene, potassium, folate, lutein and fiber, with very few calories. Their flesh is both filling and satisfying enough to make a meal in and of itself.
Butternut squash is a lovely buff-colored squash that’s shaped like an oblong gourd with a bubble at one end. Of all the winter squash, Butternut has some of the softest skin (along with Delicata and Acorn); you can easily peel it off with a Y-peeler. Its flesh ranges from pale Dreamsicle to deep orange and is creamy and nutty when cooked. And there’s a good amount of it; the entire neck is seedless.
How to use it: Butternut is a super-flexible squash and my favorite for cubing and roasting. Halve, seed, brush with oil and roast flesh side down at 400 for 50-60 minutes; or peel, cube, toss with olive oil and seasonings and roast at 450 for 40-50 minutes, turning occasionally. Use roasted squash in risotto, soup or as a spread for sandwiches or pizza.
Substitute: acorn or Buttercup.
It used to be acorn squash were dark green with an occasional orange mottle, but nowadays this squash comes in all sorts of colors and patterns, like the spotted Carnival variety above. Although acorn’s skin is even thinner than butternut, its deep grooves make it more difficult to peel. Its flesh is sweet, but stringier than the rest.
How to use it: I like to cut this squash into wide slices or wedges and roast them with a sticky-sweet glaze. Halve, seed and brush with oil. Then slice or roast halves at 425 for 20-40 minutes.
Substitute: butternut or delicata.
Most kabocha squash are somewhat squat, with lumpy, shiny, dark green skin. Although I’ve also been finding kabochas with pale blue skin (above) which look a bit like miniature Hubbards. Regardless of the external color, the flesh of a kabocha is deep reddish-orange and dense in both texture and flavor when cooked.
How to use it: Kabocha makes a wonderful roasting squash and I find it melds well with Eastern-leaning flavors. Halve, seed, brush with oil and roast flesh down at 400 for 60-75 minutes. Scrape out flesh and use in soups, pasta or a mash. Or seed, stuff and roast whole.
Shaped like a miniature pumpkin with pale yellow, green-striped skin, Sweet Dumplings have deep orange flesh that’s mild, dry and sweet—almost like a sweet potato.
How to use it: The main draw of Sweet Dumplings is that they’re so darned cute. Stuff and roast them whole or ladle in soup for serving. Seed and roast at 400 F for 50-60 minutes.
Substitute: kabocha or buttercup.
Delicata are beautiful oblong squash with gently-ridged, butter-colored skin and dark green stripes. It’s the most perishable squash of the bunch because its skin is so thin (so thin, in fact, it’s edible). The flesh is light, sweet and kind of cakey-moist in a good way.
How to use it: Halve and seed the squash, brush with oil, cut into slices and roast at 400 F for 20-30 minutes.
Substitute: acorn squash.
Similar in appearance to a kabocha squash, but with slightly smoother, lighter green skin that grows a “turban” as it ages. Buttercup’s flesh is bright orange, smooth and creamy with voluptuous flavor and hazelnut overtones when cooked.
How to use it: Halve, seed, brush with oil and roast flesh down at 400 F for 60-75 minutes. Scrape out flesh and use in soups, pasta or a mash. Or seed, stuff and roast whole.
Substitute: butternut or kabocha.
Farro is an ancient strain of emmer wheat. You can find it in many specialty shops and also online at ChefShop.com. The hearty, nutty flavor of the farro pairs beautifully with butternut squash and mushrooms.
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 cups sliced shallots
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
3 thyme sprigs
3 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
2 pounds cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 bay leaves
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 quart mushroom stock
1-1/2 cups farro
1/4 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Toss squash and shallots with 1 tablespoon olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper and thyme. Spread out in a heavy roasting pan and roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally after the first 10 minutes, until squash and shallots are tender and caramelized. Remove from the oven and discard thyme stems.
While the squash roasts, heat remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add pancetta. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until a good portion of the fat is rendered. Add mushrooms to pot and toss well. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, until mushrooms begin to release their liquid. Uncover and increase heat to medium-high. Add bay leaves, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper, and continue cooking for 12-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are tinged golden-brown.
Stir in broth, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot, and bring to a boil. Stir in farro and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring frequently, until all the liquid is gone and the farro is tender. Stir in squash and shallots and serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.