Butternut squash can be an intimidating vegetable to cook with because of its ungainly shape and thick skin. However, this classic harvest gourd is a must-have for many Thanksgiving recipes, like my macaroni and cheese or squash pudding. These step-by-step instructions with pictures should help demystify the delicious butternut and make pureeing the vegetable a breeze.
The only must-have for working with butternut squash is a large, sharp knife. If you don’t have a good cleaver or butcher knife, a clean hand saw from the tool box works nicely for cutting hard squash and is much safer than trying to go at it with a too-small kitchen knife. And at about $5, a small hand saw is a cheap way to go if you don’t cook often enough to drop $$ on a good kitchen knife. A food processor is optional for this recipe; a potato masher is also an effective, albeit time consuming, way to puree the roasted squash. Finally, I like to process butternut squash in advance of using the puree in a recipe, mostly since this process can be time consuming if you’re in a rush to get dinner on the table. The whole cut-roast-puree process takes about 90 minutes; only 15 of those minutes are hands-on. Perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon!
Here’s how to do it: first, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover a cookie sheet with foil and set aside. Place the squash on a cutting board and using the largest, sharpest knife you have, cut off the stem end of the squash and the cut the squash in half lengthwise. If your squash is large, the lengthwise cut will probably take two knife strokes: one lengthwise through the butt of the squash, and another cut down through the neck. Whatever you do, keep your hands and fingers above the blade of the knife and cut with steady, controlled motions. Also rest assured that this, and all squash purees, will turn out A-OK if the squash isn’t cut perfectly.
Once the squash is cut in half (whew!) scoop out the seeds with a spoon and rub a little olive oil on the orange flesh. Place squash flesh-side down on the prepared cookie sheet and cook for 45 minutes in the preheated oven, until the skin is bubbly and brown, and the squash can be pierced easily with a fork. Take the squash out of the oven and carefully wrap the aluminum foil into a packet around the cooling squash; this will help make the skin very tender and easy to peel off once the squash cools. Wait until the squash is lukewarm to the touch, then unwrap the foil and peel away the squash skin with your fingers. The squash will probably break into pieces as your work with it; that’s good. Put the peeled squash into the food processor and whiz away until it has the consistency of baby food. Store the squash in an airtight container for up to a week in the fridge, or about a month in the freezer.