Butternut squash is part of the gourd family in the Cucurbita moschata species, and is related to the pumpkin, cucumber, and courgette. These varieties are generally more heat tolerant of hot, humid weather and display a greater disease and pest resistance. Butternut squash are in full season in October and November, though they can be eaten year round as they store very well.
Like the acorn squash, which we learned about a few weeks ago, the butternut squash is a Native American gourd originally grown only for seeds. With the evolution of the butternut squash, the plant produces fruit with a thicker skin, fewer seeds, and less waste. While it was not commonly eaten until the nineteenth century, it is now the most widely grown winter squash. In fact, squash has long been an established part of the diet of each of the five continents. Interestingly, Florida is the largest producer of butternut squash in the United States.
Butternut squash vary in shape, from cylindrical to half-dumbbell. Its smooth tan exterior hides a deliciously sweet, buttery orange flesh. Butternut squash is used in a wide varieties of recipes, from stews, gratins, pasta dishes, risottos, soups, and curries; it is also eaten baked and mashed, often with maple syrup, cinnamon, even a dash of cream.
When prepping squash, do so with great care. Their awkward shape and thicker skin make them tricky to cut. Use a large knife or cleaver to make a shallow cut down the length of the squash (curves permitting). Place the blade in the cut and knock the back of the blade (using your hand, a wooden mallet or rolling pin) until the squash is cut in half lengthways. Scoop out the seeds and any fibrous-strings (the seeds are edible - raw or toasted - but the fibrous coat can be fiddly to remove). If you require chunks of squash, cut a small piece of each end, enabling you to stand it vertically and trim off the rind before slicing and dicing. The rind is rather bitter, so make sure to remove all of the skin and white pith-like coating for optimal flavour.
Butternut squash is a well-balanced food source that is rich in complex carbohydrates and low in saturated fat and sodium. It is a very good source of vitamins A and C and a good source of beta-carotene, magnesium, manganese, calcium and potassium.