There's nothing better than butternut squash.
Until recently I would have said, there's nothing worse than butternut squash -- or acorn, or kabocha or calabaza or even a pumpkin, for that matter.
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I love the sweet, creamy flavor of winter squash, especially in soup, but I absolutely hate the prep work. Usually, by the time, I have hacked, sawed and stabbed my way through the gosh-darned thing, I am dripping in sweat and have lost my appetite for soup or anything else.
This was the year I conquered all things squash and pumpkin. I had to. I own a share in an organic farm so I'd get fresh produce delivered at my doorstep every Sunday morning. While this didn't seem to be a great summer for corn, apparently it's been quite a year for winter squash.
Week after week, it's been one squash and/or pumpkin after the next. After suffering a few minor injuries (mostly blisters on my thumb), I have become quite the expert at taming the butternut beast. Best of all, my solution cuts way down on the cutting.
So while you can hack away all you like, I have decided that cooking them whole (or cut in big chunks) is the best way to go about it. If a whole squash fits into my oven rack, I simply poke it with holes using a narrow knife or an ice pick, place it on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast it at 375 degrees until it starts to soften and collapse.
Once it starts to soften, I move it around a bit to make sure it cooks evenly. This can take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes for it to cook through. I let it cool, cut it in half and scrape out the seeds and stringy fibers, then I scoop out the flesh and use in my soup. No fuss, a little muss, but, best of all, no injuries. Oh, and you can freeze the cooked squash for later use, if you like.
If the squash is too big for the oven, I cut it in big chunks, scrape out the seeds and bake it at 400 degrees, cut-side down. After about 30 minutes, I flip the pieces over and continue cooking, another 20 minutes or so. Then I let it cool, scrape out the flesh and put it in the stockpot.
As to soup, well, nothing is tastier or easier than butternut squash soup, especially when you cook the squash ahead of time. You can follow my recipe, which is on the spicy side, or you can give it a nice herbal flavor with a bit of fresh sage and rosemary instead of the adobe sauce and curry.
I added a can of diced roasted tomatoes because I like the color, freshness and pop of acidity that tomatoes add to the soup. For something a little smoother, skip the tomatoes and stir a cup cream or coconut milk into the fully cooked soup.
Once you master the easy way to cook squash and pumpkin, well, heck, it's going to butternut squash soup all winter long.
• M. Eileen Brown is the Daily Herald's director of strategic marketing and innovation, and an incurable soup-a-holic. She specializes in vegetarian soups and blogs at soupalooza.com.