I recently sliced into a butternut squash, and my daughter (clearly inspired by jack-o-lantern season) asked me if we could roast the seeds. I said of course, although it hadn’t occurred to me to do anything but toss them in the garbage. The seeds are 30 percent protein, 35 percent healthful fats and a solid source of fiber and vitamins, so why not?
When we finished roasting and eating the crunchy snack, I realized that I don’t do enough with this remarkable winter vegetable. I often bake it to top a salad or puree it into a soup, but I am just scratching the surface of the possibilities: There are so many other tasty ways to cook and eat a butternut squash.
No offense to the zucchini, because I adore summer squash, but winter squash varieties outshine their summer relatives in nutrients. Butternut squash:
• Offers 354 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant that promotes healthy skin, eyes and mucous membranes.
• Delivers loads of B vitamins, especially folate for heart health and B6 for the immune and nervous systems.
• Provides iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, copper and phosphorous.
• Includes half of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C, which helps boost the immune system.
• Is free of saturated fats and cholesterol, and high in fiber.
An uncut butternut squash can be stored for months at room temperature, but don’t let that stop you from digging into one today. The hard exterior is intimidating to some, so here is a quick lesson on how to cut and cook the vegetable.
How to prepare a butternut squash
1. Peel. It is much easier to cut a squash in half after the tough skin has been removed.
2. Halve, lengthwise.
3. Scoop out the seeds.
4. Bake as is, or slice or cube before cooking.
Basic cooking methods
• Halved, then roasted or grilled with the skin on or off.
• Sliced and roasted, with the skin on or off.
• Cubed and boiled in a soup, roasted, steamed or sauteed.
Ways to eat butternut squash
• Roasted with olive oil or coconut oil and sea salt, and served as a side dish or in a salad.
• Steamed, then pureed into a soup with stock and spices.
• Cubed and thrown into a stew or sauteed with oil, sea salt and spices.
• Steamed or roasted, mashed, then used in risotto or ravioli, or blended into a dip.
• Steamed, pureed and baked into any muffin or bread recipe that calls for pumpkin puree.
• Roasted, pureed and whipped into a creme brulee.
• Sliced into thin strips and then baked into chips.
• And don’t forget to roast the seeds!
Winning butternut squash flavor combinations
• Brown butter
• Maple syrup
• Soy sauce
• Ricotta and fresh herbs
Cleaning squash seeds before roasting
• Place the seeds in a colander and rinse until most of the squash remnants are washed off.
• Transfer seeds to a bowl of cold water and let sit for five minutes. The remaining slimy pieces should separate from the seeds. Drain.
• Place seeds on a dishtowel or paper towel. Dry well.
• Toss with olive oil, butter or coconut oil, sea salt and spices of choice (some of my favorites are cayenne, dried chilies, curry powder, cumin, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon), and bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a 325-degree oven for 30 minutes, tossing once.
First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, November 6, 2014.