Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pick of the Week: Butternut Squash

I owe my love of vegetables to my mom. I grew up in the Bronx, in the days when there was a green grocer on just about every block. You had your favorite, he was your friend, and he never steered you wrong. It was from our green grocer and my mom that I learned how to choose fruit and vegetables -- with your nose, eyes and hands -- and how to embrace the seasons. Even today, when some produce such as asparagus are year-round staples, I gravitate toward them when they are supposed to make the scene.

Now is the season for winter squash, and I eat my fill. And butternut is among my favorites.

Choosing: Butternut Squash is long, with a bulbous end and a tan-color. The flesh is deep orange. Look for well-shaped squash, heavy for its size and dry. Leave cracked or bruised butternuts as the market.

Storing: They keep at room temperature for about two months

Cooking: Wash outside, halve lengthwise, and remove seeds. Place squash, cut side down, in a baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Turn cut side up, cover, and bake 20 to 25 minutes more, until tender. You can also cook in a microwave dish with about 2 tablespoons water. Cover and cook, cut-side down on high about 9 minutes. If not tender, cook in increments of 1 minute each until tender. Let stand 5 minutes before serving,

When I was looking for a recipe for this week's Pick, I found this old favorite between my mom's version of lentil soup and a glorious Tuscan bean soup that I'll share later this winter. This soup is so creamy, you forget there is nothing fattening in it. But face facts: You're eating a bowl of veggies! But that's our secret. What really makes it extra special are the toasted squash seeds you sprinkle on top of the soup. Crunchy. Decadent, Different. Yummy.


1 medium butternut squash

Olive oil spray

1 large white onion, chopped

½ cup chopped celery

½ cup chopped carrot

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 to 5 cups chicken broth

Juice of one lemon

1 canned chipotle in adobo, minced (if this is too spicy, use half a chiptole)

½ cup nonfat sour cream

Salt, fresh ground pepper

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds, discarding the stringy pulp. Put the seeds in a sieve and rinse. Set aside.
  • Spray a baking dish with the olive oil spray. Place squash, cut side down, in the dish. Pierce all over with a fork. Bake 45 minutes or until tender. Let cool.
  • While the squash is in the oven, toast the reserved squash seeds in a small pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until crunchy, about 30 minutes. Season heavily with salt and set aside.
  • Spray deep pot with olive oil spray and heat over medium heat. Saute onion until soft. Add celery and carros tand saute 10 minutes more. Add garlic and saute about 2 minutes more.
  • Scoop the flesh of the squash into the pot and stir. Add 4 cups broth and lemon juice. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are very tender. Add the chiptole.
  • Puree the soup in batches in a blender. Return to the saucepan, Add more broth, stirring it into the soup, until you get the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Spoon soup into bowls, Top with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of seeds.

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