Butternut squash: How to select it, cook it, peel it (and more) in your go-to guide

By Jeanie Rose | Winter Squash

Oct 19

Butternut squash: How to select it, cook it, peel it (and more) in your go-to guideButternut squash is a perennial favorite among the winter squash and for good reason. It has great flavor and color and it stores for several months in a root cellar. The deep orange color comes from its vitamin A/beta carotene content, but it is also rich in several other vitamins and minerals. Butternut squash is a great vegetable to enjoy from the fall and into the winter.

How to you shop for it? Cook it? Peel it? Turn it into scrumptious dishes? I’ve written your go-to guide here.

Butternut Squash in the Garden

This vining squash puts on squash after squash after squash. It is a wonderfully prolific plant. The leaves on the vines are fairly small so it does not seem like the butternut is taking over your entire garden. A space-saving trick is to plant at the edge of your garden and train the vines to trail over the uncultivated area surrounding the garden. Some people train the vines to go over a fence or up a trellis. This takes a little effort on your part, but is really space-saving.

Butternut squash is delicious in its green, immature state. If you have a number of vines, you can afford this luxury. Clip the small green butternuts from the vines before the skin toughens up. If the skin is a bit tough, just peel it away and fry the sliced immature butternuts like you would potatoes. This is a great side-dish for any summer meal.

For those butternuts you have left to mature, watch the stems. They start out green and darken as the squash matures. When the butternut is thoroughly mature and ready for harvest, the stem will be brownish and woody looking. It is weaning itself from the vine. You can help it along with a pair of clippers.

Store your bounty in a cool, dry place. This was the purpose of root cellars. Not many people have such wonderful spaces any longer. If you do, use it. If not, try a portion of the basement. If you have no basement, consider using an outdoor shed that is sheltered enough to keep the harvested butternuts from freezing. Everyone has a place that will work, but it can take some thought to solve the problem.

Buying Butternut Squash

It’s always advisable to purchase this squash from a local stand or farmers market. You can be fairly certain the squash is local and fresh. You may even be able to determine that it is organic. Make friends with the vendor and learn all you can from them about your purchase. You never know what gems of information you can pick up.

In deciding on which butternuts to choose, look for the ones with the longest, fattest necks. The meat is in the neck and the seeds and membrane are in the bulbous lower part. Waltham butternut is the variety most commonly found commercially. This one was bread for long thick necks.

Check for nicks or cuts of any kind, especially if you are not going to use the butternut squash right away or if you plan to store it for some time. Bacteria enters through the cuts and works to shorten the storage life of any winter squash, butternut being no exception.

In Cooking

Recipes for butternut squash call for it in a number of forms: pureed, cubed, or roasted spears. You may also wonder when you need to peel your butternut squash. We discuss these issues below.

How to Peel It

If you are roasting butternut for puree or to serve it as roasted spears, we do not recommend peeling the squash. Once it is roasted you can easily scoop the meat of the squash away from the hard peel. However, if you are making butternut squash cubes to use in a recipe, you will want to peel it first. The process is simple — check out the video at right or follow these simple instructions:

  1. Slice the squash length-wise in quarters.
  2. Remove the seeds, scooping them out with a strong spoon.
  3. Peel each quarter using a vegetable peeler (potato peeler).
  4. Cut the quartered squash into cubes.

You can try peeling the entire squash with a potato peeler but you will still have to quarter and seed it. It is far easier to peel once it is already quartered. You now have your cubes of butternut squash, peeled.

Cubed Butternut For Soups and Stew

Now that your butternut squash is peeled and cubed, it is ready for recipes calling for cubed butternut squash. Cubed butternut is typically added to recipes raw and it cooks with the other ingredients, though it can be roasted in a similar fashion to our process below for roasted butternut spears, they will simply roast much more quickly.

If you find yourself using cubed butternut often, you can consider freezing it in cubes as we describe below. In our household, we simply keep the squash on hand and cube it as we need it. By the end of the season, we move on to other produce.

Butternut Squash Puree

The most common way to use this squash is as a puree that is then added to soups, breads, and desserts. If the recipe calls for pumpkin puree, you can use your butternut puree instead. The process for making puree is simple:

  1. Wash and dry the butternut squash.
  2. Cut off both ends and slice the squash in half longways.
  3. Scoop out the seeds and membrane.
  4. Bake on an oiled cooky sheet at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. The time will vary depending on the size of your squash.
  5. Let the squash cool some before scooping out the pulp.
  6. Run the pulp through a food processor until smooth.
  7. Refrigerate for up to 4 days in a tight container or freeze for future use.

Roasted Butternut Squash Spears

Roasted butternut squash brings a whole new level of flavor to the butternut squash caramelizing it adding a musky sweetness to the squash. You can use the roasted butternut squash to make a butternut puree to use in soups, breads, and desserts. Freeze the puree in recipe-sized servings for ease of use.

Beyond puree, roast the squash and serve it as a side to meatloaf, meat roasts, or grain-based dishes.

Roasting butternut squash also happens to be extremely simple. To roast butternut for puree, follow the instructions below. To use as a side dish, check out our recipe and instructions for roasted butternut.

How to Freeze Butternut Squash

Butternut squash is such a good keeper in cool air temperatures that we do not tend to freeze it. However, if you would like to keep some in your freezer for use off-season, you can freeze it as a puree (simply put puree in freezer containers in recipe-sized portions) or freeze in cubes. To freeze butternut squash in cubes, simply do the following:

  1. Slice the squash length-wise in quarters.
  2. Seed the butternut squash.
  3. Peel each quarter.
  4. Cut the quartered squash into cubes.
  5. Bring water to boil.
  6. Boil cubes for 3 minutes (or 5 minutes if you are at 5,000 feet elevation or above).
  7. Drop the cubes in ice-cold water to chill them quickly.
  8. Drain.
  9. Place the butternut cubes on a cookie sheet in one single layer and place it in the freezer.
  10. When they are frozen (in just a few hours), transfer the butternut squash cubes to a freezer bag.
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