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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.
Today: The butternut squash is Goliath. You are David. You win.
Big, honking, and hermetically sealed, a butternut squash is a formidable opponent, and breaking one down is a daunting task. Where do you start? How do you get the skin off? Why did you have to sell that machete at last year's yard sale? Maybe it could have come in handy tonight, when you're hungry and the only thing between you and dinner is a curcurbit that needs to, somehow, be hacked.
Breaking down a butternut is quite simple, though, if you can learn to compartmentalize: take off the ends, separate the neck from the round bottom, then peel; this will give you manageable pieces to deal with. You will also get a bonus snack out of the seeds, if you don't mind picking through a bit of goo. Either way, you'll go from whole to pieces in less than five minutes, leaving you no excuse to buy the less fresh and more expensive pre-chopped bits at the store.
Let us show you how.
First, slice off the nubbin at the top of your squash. Cut it in half, just where things start to get wider. Then cut off about an inch from the bottom. You now have two separate pieces, each its own size, with flat edges that will help you avoid tumbling squashes and lost fingers.
Next, grab your vegetable peeler, and take off the skin. This is a bit easier than a paring knife, and it's more effective; you're not going to lose as much flesh, and it gives you more control.
Once all the squash's skin is gone, and there are no lingering streaks of white down its sides, cut your halves in half.
Next, scoop out all of the innards -- you want to get all of the seeds and the surrounding ick. We recommend you pick through the guts and remove all of the seeds -- then wash them off; toss them with some oil, salt, and spices; and roast them for a snack or salad topping. Here's how to do it, in 5 easy steps.
If you don't feel like roasting your seeds, take a page from Deborah Madison's book: she uses the seeds and fibers to make a quick stock -- use it in risotto or soup. (Don't you feel so vegetable-literate right now?)
Back to the beast: you now have manageable hunks to slice and chop as if they were, say, a sweet potato, or any other non-threatening root vegetable. Slice them lengthwise, then horizontally, then crosswise -- the same way you'd chop an onion.
Look! Now you have evenly sized pieces. Add them to a stew, turn them into a soft stovetop purée, or roast them and toss them into this Genius salad. Then pat yourself on the back for tackling winter's Goliath.
Photos by James Ransom