That butternut squash is a winter squash does not mean it thrives in cold weather as it is easily destroyed by frost and must be harvested before winter begins, around October-November. Instead, the term refers to the long winter months when this vegetable brings variety and essential nutrients (fiber, vitamins C and A, magnesium and potassium) to the kitchen. The squash originates from Mexico and the largest growing states are California and Florida due to the long growing season and mild winters. The butternut is found also in Australia, where it is called “pumpkin” and in South-Africa, where it is sometimes barbequed with added spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon.
When buying a squash, choose a rock-solid one, for a soft squash is either too young or too old; and make sure the stem is intact, for an opening will allow bacteria to enter. A ripe butternut squash has a pronounced pinkish tan colored skin; a green tinge on the skin indicates an immature squash, but do not pass an older squash which color has faded for the flavor will be richer and sweeter. A butternut yields more meat than other squashes due to the small seed cavity and thin skin, and the flavor of the meat is creamy and moderately sweet, except for the skin and seeds, which should be discarded.
A squash can hold for months if purchased in good shape and stored in a cool and dry place, preferably around 55-60 degrees; a higher temperature will shorten its life, but will not harm the flavor extensively. A cut squash must be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator, and although it should hold well for more than a week, plan to use it sooner than later. The butternut is the most versatile of all squashes and can be made into soups, baked into breads and muffins, served roasted or toasted or as a nutty addition to vegetables in stews and casseroles. You can even make a risotto using butternut squash rather than rice (see the “Risotto” article on the CCF website). Baking the squash concentrates the flavor and deepens the color which is why the following recipe creates a soup which is as intense in color as it is in flavor.