Butternut squash, a member of the crucurbitaceae family, is one of countless varieties of squash. They are of varying shades of orange, often a foot or more in height, are bulbous at one end and gradually taper. They have a dense flesh ranging from light gold to deep orange in colour.
A half cup serving of butternut squash contains up to 80 percent of the U.S. RDA of Vitamin A. They are also high in Vitamin C. According to the American Cancer Society, deep-yellow foods such as acorn, butternut, Hubbard and other yellow squashes that are rich in Vitamin A may lower the risk of some cancers, notably cancer of the larynx, oesophagus and lungs.

The peel is inedible because it’s tough and is often waxed to preserve the squash. And butternut can be horrible to peel. The easiest method I have found is to use an enormous cleaver to make a cut across the base, then stand the squash upright and make a cut straight down the centre. Lay the two halves flat and cut across to chop them into one or two inch half circles. Then you can pick up the half circles and use a paring knife to remove the skin and seeds. The sections can be further chopped into a dice if smaller pieces are needed for a recipe.

Once chopped, all that remains is to decide what to do with the pieces. One thing I strongly suggest you not do is to make a “macrobiotic special” with them, which was my introduction to butternut squash. A macrobiotic special is a bowl of boiled chopped root vegetables with little to no seasoning. Not appetizing.

My first attempt to cook squash consisted of liberally seasoning the pieces with salt, garlic, black pepper, ancho chilli powder, and roasting them in a little olive oil until they were quite blackened around the edges (carefully burnt food is one of my specialities). Then I tried fancying it up a bit - if you cut straight through the squash, you can make little squash rings. And if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can bake them and fill the rings with some sort of filling (perhaps mushrooms, sliced onions and red peppers) and then melt some cheese on them. They’re pretty good, but way too fiddly, so I only did that once.
These days I sometimes roast pieces when I make roast potatoes and other roasted root vegetables or make butternut squash soup with it.

Butternut squash will keep for months if stored in a cool, dry place. When buying it, beware of lightweight squash with wrinkled skin. Squash contains a lot of moisture, so these symptoms indicate that it is far past its prime.

Because all the seeds of a butternut squash are in the bulbous end, you can cut it in half right where it starts to bulge out. You will then have one completely solid, cylindrical hunk of squash, which is pretty easy to peel and cube, and a hollow hunk that you should split open to remove the seeds and then slice up.

I mention this because if you are in a hurry and don't need to use up the whole thing, you can just use the top piece, which is quick work to prepare (peel and chop), and put aside the hollow piece, which is slower and gloppier to prepare (split, seed, slice, peel, chop), for later. If you are up to it, you can even peel the seedless piece with your chef's knife by standing the squash section on its cut end and taking the peel off in thin vertical slices.

Because it's less complicated to prepare the seedless "neck" of the squash, you can sometimes find a variation on butternut called "neck pumpkin." This resembles a butternut squash crossed with a giraffe; its bulbous, seed-bearing section is about the same size as a butternut's, but the seedless neck is greatly elongated: about three or four times the length of a butternut's neck. Usually the neck part is curved, so you can't do the vertical peel w/chef's knife trick on it, but its high ratio of squash-to-seed makes it pretty popular among people needing large quantities of prepared squash for making pies and such. I've never seen this in the grocery store, though. Look for it in farmer's markets, mainly in the autumn.

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