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Taming the Sweetness of Butternut Squash

A mainstay fall vegetable adapts well to different cooking methods

Fine Cooking Issue 60
Photos: Scott Phillips
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With its sweet, creamy, dark-orange flesh, butternut squash is one of the best and most versatile of all the fall squashes. But too often I find that recipes made with butternut squash are like a one-note song—all sweetness with no contrast. I think the secret to delicious butternut squash dishes is providing something tart or tangy to balance the sweet richness.

A little bit of a bold flavor can do the trick

When I cook with butternut squash, I always use one of these assertive ingredients to balance the sweetness:

  • Orange or lemon juice (or zest) adds brightness and zing. A splash of vinegar helps, too.
  • Tomatoes, which are both sweet and acidic, make a bridge for full-flavored squash dishes.
  • Sharp cheeses like Asiago, Parmesan, feta, and goat cheese lend a salty note and highlight the nutty side of squash’s flavor.
  • Robust herbs, such as sage, rosemary, and thyme, work with the earthy qualities of the squash, yet still offer an assertive contrast to its sweet side, too.
  • Bold spices like cumin, coriander, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, ginger, and curry have a natural affinity to squash, making the perfect bridge from earthy to intriguing.

Six ideas for cooking squash

Use a sturdy Y-shaped peeler to peel butternut squash. Whichever way you cook butternut squash, be sure it’s tender all the way through, but stop short of mushy.

  • Sauté diced butternut squash in olive oil with minced garlic and plenty of salt and pepper. Add a little chopped sage and grated lemon zest at the end.
  • Braise diced butternut squash on the stovetop in a little chicken stock, sautéed shallots, white wine, and butter.
  • Bake a squash gratin. Slice raw butternut squash thinly, combine it with sliced potatoes, tomatoes, sautéed onions, and herbs for a delicious side.
  • Roast chunky cubes of butternut squash with other fall vegetables—onions, turnips, carrots, shallots, and sweet potatoes—all tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add a splash of sherry vinegar toward the end of cooking, and garnish generously with minced fresh parsley.
  • Roast small cubes of butternut squash tossed in a simple seasoning of olive oil, salt, and chopped rosemary.
  • Toss leftover sautéed or roasted cubes of butternut squash with a tangy, citrus-spiked vinaigrette for a satisfying and beautiful addition to a salad. Add a garnish of toasted nuts, dried cranberries or cherries, and some crumbled goat cheese or shavings of Parmesan.


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