Simply Seasonal: Butternut squash is delicious but intimidating
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado Its impossible to miss the bountiful displays of squashes and gourds in grocery produce aisles right now. Im always drawn to the variety of colors and shapes, ranging from round, to oval and those uniquely shaped like vases, giant acorns, or bowling pins. Some are smooth, some bumpy. For years I simply viewed this potpourri of veggies as a seasonal centerpiece. The array of colors and textures, shapes and sizes inspires a beautiful autumn arrangement, alas, to be thrown away after the dinner party is over. But why miss out on the great flavors? Though squashes can be intimidating to prepare, they are delicious and nutritional. If youre unfamiliar with winter squashes, the one to start with is Butternut. True to its name, the flavor is creamy, sweet and nutty. One cup of cooked butternut squash has 80 calories, 5 grams of fiber and a wealth of Vitamins A and C.One look at the vase-shaped, tan-colored butternut squash can make the home cook wonder what to do with it. Too hard to slice, slippery if peeled, its preparation can be baffling. I saw a recipe that guided me to place the entire squash in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes and voila! It became soft enough to slice lengthwise. I discarded the seeds and then scooped out the pulp. A little butter, salt and pepper, and nutmeg and I was delighted with the results. Why all the fuss about peeling, slicing, dicing of the butternut squash?Enter a professional. Jeremy Kittelson, executive chef of Restaurant Avondale enlightened me. Sure, he said, your way will work. But if you want depth of flavor you have to caramelize it. Here is his technique: Use a heavy, sharp knife Cut off each of the ends Scoop out seeds and discard Cut into strips Peel the strips (peeling a whole squash first makes it too slippery to handle) Cut into 1/2-inch cubes Melt a tablespoon of butter in a skillet Over medium heat, saut the cubes until browned on the outsides and the insides are soft. (Or roast at 350 degrees to get the same caramelization.)OK, Jeremy, that sounds easy enough, but Im not too sure about my skills with a heavy, sharp chefs knife. Feel the same? Heres my compromise: roast the whole squash for about 30 minutes, which will soften it just enough to slice with ease. Then follow Jeremys professional technique to get that caramelized flavor. After the cubes are caramelized, serve as a side dish to roasted or braised meats or make Avondales popular soup from the recipe below.
Yield: 4 quarts2 large Butternut Squash, peeled, diced, roasted3 apples, peeled, diced3 carrots, diced4 stalks celery, diced1 potato, diced2 medium onions, diced1 tablespoon ginger, grated10 cups water or stock (chicken or vegetable)1/2 cup creamSalt, pepper, nutmeg to tasteSweat onions, ginger, celery, apples and carrots in butter until fragrant. Add roasted squash, potatoes and water. Simmer 35 minutes. Finish with cream and freshly grated nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Puree in a blender or food processor and strain. Garnish with crme fraiche, chives and toasted pumpkin seeds.Sue Barham is the marketing director for Restaurant Avondale and Larkspur Restaurant. Avondale recently opened in The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon. The restaurant features a West Coast inspired, seasonal menu and the chefs use time-honored cooking methods, such as slow roasting and braising, to create simple dishes rich in flavor. The wine program focuses on small production wines to compliment the straightforward cuisine. For more information visit http://www.avondalerestaurant.com.