Ever since I posted this recipe for Creamy Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese, I’ve been thinking a lot about why and how we use butternut squash in our kitchens.
Traditionally, my family has always relied on the “it’s Thanksgiving!” mentality of roasting squash—pop that baby in the oven with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and serve it as a side dish to puckered-faced children who’d rather crawl under the table than eat a vegetable that color. Butternut squash isn’t orange like a carrot or yellow like a banana, but this weird version of the two (depending on its raw or cooked version, of course). Clearly, butternut squash is not to be trusted.
Pictured: “Can this butternut squash stuff be trusted?”
But, it’s also one of the more versatile squashes I’ve cooked with lately. I know I was skeptical when going into the macaroni and cheese recipe I mentioned above, but I was handsomely rewarded as Lydia and I both realized—
“I think…I think I like this better than regular macaroni and cheese?!”
In fact, if you know what you’re doing, butternut squash can be a wildly useful way of sneaking vegetables into food and using up that leftover squash that you just couldn’t find anyone to eat in one sitting.
This Saturday, I finished off the leftover butternut squash from my Creamy Macaroni and Cheese recipe (with butternut squash) for a lasagna that featured a similar concept: delicate lasagna noodles bedded between two cheese sauces (one blue and one ricotta-based) and strewn with sweetly-roasted butternut squash. The dish creates an unexpected take on vegetarian lasagna, and it’s not the only thing you can do with this squash:
-5 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do with Butternut Squash-
1.) Substitute Butternut Squash for Cheese in a Béchamel Sauce.
This idea surprises so many people (including me)—but, when steamed and boiled with the right ingredients (say, a little broth, milk or cream and spice), butternut squash absorbs and develops an incredible amount of new flavors that are noticeably lighter and less identifiable than the earthier tones you’d find if eating squash by itself. The key in this process is to slow cook, tenderize, puree, and blend so that the final product sneaks butternut squash into a place it typically wouldn’t be—half of the sauce you’re pouring over your Macaroni and Cheese or any kind of pasta noodles.
Example: Butternut Squash Rigatoni
Example: Butternut Squash Creamy Pasta
Example: Butternut Squash Sauce (just the sauce recipe, but suggests cheese be added later as a topping)
Pictured: just an example of how much you can do with butternut squash: Creamy Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese.
2.) Substitute Butternut Squash for Meat Toppings (as with Pizzas, Lasagnas, and Crostini)
#2 really comes down to personal choice and taste preferences (ok, and also how much people are willing to try something new). If you love bacon on everything (like me), you may find it hard to swap out the salty pork stuff for orange-colored squash, but the substitution does have its benefits: besides the clear low-calorie perks, butternut squash blends beautifully with cheeses that can be subtle (like ricotta) or sharp (like blue).
Of course, I am not asking that you substitute butternut squash for every kind of meat (nor should you! Butternut Squash Sloppy Joes? That’s not a great idea), but be open to the vegetable’s flexibility as a healthful, creative, and satisfying substitute that will make your friends and family think about the food you’ve placed in front of them.
Example: Butternut Squash Lasagna with Blue Cheese and Mozzarella (recipe below)
Example: Butternut Squash Black Bean Tostadas
3.) Slice and Bake into Vegetable Chips
Vegetable chips, although wildly expensive at Whole Foods and specialty grocers, are actually remarkably cheap and easy to make at home. Simply buy the vegetable and get to slicing, but be careful not to let your chips “burn” once popped in the oven (a Silpat mat always helps). Mandoline slicers are great go-to tools for homemade chip recipes (and work well), but I always tell cooks to be wary of the somewhat hidden and sharp flat blade.
Tip: if you use an oven mitt or industrial glove when slicing, you’re less likely to cut your fingers and hands. Trust me, you’ll want to try this!
Example: Parmesan Butternut Squash Chips
Example: Butternut Squash Chips with Sage
4.) Serve for Dessert in Custards, Puddings, and Pies
#4 shouldn’t be as much of a surprise as the others—squash in general has a long history of being slow roasted, pureed, and double-baked into a flaky pie shell (ahem, ahem, American pumpkin pie). Butternut squash, although somewhat more flavorful than a pumpkin, has a lot to offer when preparing dessert.
Not only does a cooked and processed butternut squash bring its own level of earthiness and surprise to any dessert item, but it complements traditional fall spices like nutmeg and cinnamon in a way that many palates can appreciate and easily identify. Whereas pumpkins commonly take on the flavor of their recipe counterparts (I think Bobby Flay does a great job of explaining this idea here), butternut squash never really “impersonates” anything: it’s always butternut squash, but it’s sometimes a little bit better, say, Butternut Squash with Cinnamon, Ginger, and Orange as with the Custard recipe below.
Example: Butternut Squash Custard
Example: Bourbon Butternut Squash Chutney
Example: Butternut Squash Pie
Example: Butternut Squash Pudding
5.) Convert into Pasta
Last spring, I made pasta using roasted beets. They were ruby red, beautiful, and tasted nothing like beets. Like substituting fatty cheeses when making a béchamel sauce, butternut squash (like the beets recipe I mention here) can add flavor and color to an otherwise egg-based dish.
So, whether you’re using pureed butternut squash to thicken and enhance the sauce you serve with your pasta, or using it to add nutrition and creativity to the pasta itself, butternut squash has a range of applications that might just surprise you.
Example: (Basic) Butternut Squash Pasta
Example: or, get creative: peel the squash into “pasta”: Butternut Squash “Pasta” Caesar Salad
And, if you can’t seem to eat it? Why not carve it next Halloween? (Scroll down to a few images for a rather full-length skull).
Butternut Squash Lasagna with Blue Cheese and Mozzarella
This recipe takes butternut squash from side dish to main course with just a few tweaks to a traditional lasagna recipe featuring blue cheese. Create two cheese sauces—one with ricotta and one with blue cheese, and roast butternut squash with an onion until tender. Combine into a layered lasagna for a new and attractive blend of flavors!
Yield: 6 servings
Calories: 423.4 (see here for full nutritional information)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 50 to 60 minutes
*5 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed into 1-inch pieces
*1 yellow onion, chopped
*1 tablespoon olive oil
*Salt and pepper, to taste
*1 cup ricotta (whole—not low-fat or skim—is best)
*1 teaspoon salt
*1 teaspoon pepper
*2 tablespoons butter
*1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
*1 tablespoon all purpose flour
*1 1/2 cups milk (skim works fine)
*1 cup blue cheese
*10 ounces lasagna noodles (about 10 or 11 strips), cooked according to package instructions
*2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped (can substitute 1 tablespoon dried basil)
*2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped (can substitute 1 teaspoon dried sage)
*3/4 cup shredded mozzarella
*Salt and pepper, to taste
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT NEEDED:
*9.5 x 12.5 casserole dish or like baking dish (somewhat deep, 4-5 quarts)
1.) Preheat oven to 375F. Toss butternut squash and onion together with olive oil and salt and pepper. Spread across a Silpat-lined baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes (flipping occasionally) or until squash is tender to the piercing of a fork.
2.) Prepare ricotta sauce: mix ricotta with egg and salt and pepper. Set aside for assembling lasagna.
3.) Meanwhile, cook lasagna based on package instructions (al dente—tender, but a little firm). Remove from heat and strain.
Tip: if your pasta is done significantly earlier than the squash and blue cheese sauce, remove it from the burner and let it rest in the pasta water. So long as the pasta is removed from a heat source (that could encourage it to continue cooking) and has truly been cooked al dente (with some firmness to it, but still done), the pasta will not over cook. Strain right before use.)
4.) Prepare blue cheese sauce: melt butter in a nonstick, medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in both flours and cook for 1 minute to give the flour a nutty flavor. Slowly whisk in milk and stir occasionally until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in blue cheese.
5.) Grease casserole dish with nonstick spray and spoon several tablespoons of the blue cheese sauce and ricotta mixture over the bottom of your pan. Lay several lasagna noodles flat across the surface and spoon with more blue cheese sauce. Add half of your butternut squash and onion and dress in half of the ricotta mixture. Assemble next layer in the same order: lasagna noodles, blue cheese sauce, the rest of your butternut squash, ricotta, and lasagna. On the third layer, cover with any leftover cheese sauce (ricotta and/or blue cheese) and sprinkle all over with mozzarella. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little bit of basil and sage.
6.) Bake in oven for 25-30 minutes, or until top of lasagna is golden and bubbly. Remove from oven and rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Makes 6 servings.
Tip: as with pizza, lasagna should also be given at least five minutes to rest before serving. This way, the dish isn’t incredibly hot and doesn’t slide all over the place when you plate it and holds together.
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5 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do with Butternut Squash: Butternut Squash Lasagna with Blue Cheese and Mozzarella, Google+
Written by: Helana Brigman