Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hands On - Tackling Winter Squash

Winter squash is a wonderful vegetable.  I suspect that many people are denying themselves the joys of squash due to fear of cutting it up.  There is no need to fear squash.   Respect it - yes.  Fear?  No need.

Today we are going to talk about confronting the squash challenge.  This post will be mostly pictures with a few comments.  I will be working with butternut and acorn squash.  Tomorrow's Focus post will be about winter squash, and will include some recipes. 

Speaking of recipes - I just added another recipe to my kohlrabi Focus post.  (search - kohlrabi)  Lovely salad with radishes.  Check it out if you are trying to use up your kohlrabi this week.

If you are going to cut up squash and not hurt yourself, you will need:  large, sturdy cutting board that will stay in one place, sharp chef's knife, sharp sturdy paring/utility knife - not too long, a rubber mallet (this comes in handy with particularly hard squashes, a sturdy spoon with a good grip for scooping out seeds and stringy flesh.  Scooping is all about strong wrist action.

Choice:  Should you pre bake the squash before de-seeding and stringing?  And should you leave it whole or cut in half?
One technique favored by some people - especially when dealing with large or very hard squash - is to bake the squash BEFORE scooping out the seeds.  It can be cut in half first or left whole.  (If whole, it is important to poke a hole or two so the steam can escape.) It needs to be placed in a baking dish or on a rimmed baking sheet.  It is a good idea to put a little water on the bottom of the pan - especially if you are baking squash that has been cut in half.  You may need to add more water during baking. 350 degrees is a good baking temperature.  Time depends on size of squash.  Bake until a sharp knife inserted in the flesh meets no resistance.
See the pile of seeds  - there is a lot of good squash in there.

I tried this technique with the round bottom part of a butternut squash.  It worked ok, but when I scraped out the middle, some of the squash flesh came out along with the seeds and stringy part.  So my objection to this technique is that you might unnecessarily waste some otherwise good squash.  On the other hand, you don't have to worry about cutting up something that is hard and wants to roll around under your knife.  And the squash is nice and soft.  This method takes time - especially if you are working with a large whole squash.

Another technique that Margaret Marshall often uses is to microwave the whole squash just long enough to soften it - then you can cut it, scoop seeds and proceed as desired.

Cutting up a raw butternut squash - one step at a time
Wash and dry the squash.  Wash and DRY your hands.  You don't want slippery hands here.
Once the squash is cut up and the seeds are scooped out,  you can bake it and peel after baking.   Or you can peel it when raw to use in recipes that call for diced or sliced squash,  not pureed or mashed squash.  If you are going to roast squash in cubes or slices you need to peel and seed it when raw.  Some squashed can be roasted with the peel on - but they do have to be cut and seeded.

I like to bake the bottom half of a butternut and scrape out flesh after baking, because it is hard to peel when raw and hard.  The top part,  with its dense flesh and fairly straight shape, is pretty easy to peel and cut up when raw.

Here are the steps I use for butternut squash.
You need a strong long knife and firm confident grip

cut off stem end
Long knife - I am holding both ends while pressing down

dig in with vigor

I will bake these and then peel and use for soup

Using a mallet
I have never tried this before but I think it is a great and safe way to deal with hard squash.  In this case I used an acorn.  Insert tip of chef's knife into squash between ridges - insert as far as you can.  Then hit the top of the knife near the handle with the rubber mallet.  You will get the feel of it.  Your hands stay away from the business end of the knife and little by little it cuts the squash.  You can stop and adjust if you wish.

1 comment:

  1. Ok, Ms. Peggy. I've now read your two squash posts 3 times. I've studied the pictures. I've compared your squash to my squash (yes, they look the same). Over the next few nights I will place my computer on it's pedestal (a box) on the counter as reference and I will cook these beautiful squash (and the pumpkins I bought at a WI farm we passed on the way home from Hayward, WI last weekend). Thanks for the confidence, wish me luck! ;)