Behind a tough skin

The colder weather of the winter season always brings out the cravings for hearty, hot foods. One of my favorite seasonal ingredients to cook with is squash.

Not only is squash high in nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B, and antioxidants, but its versatile flavour and dense texture makes it a great complement to pretty much any main dish. It’s all in how you prepare it. My own preference: baked maple-glazed butternut squash. And all you need are a few simple ingredients.

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme (or 1-1/2 teaspoon of fresh thyme)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of dried or fresh rosemary (if you’re using fresh rosemary, chop the rosemary or bruise it with the back of your knife. This will release the essential oils from the rosemary.)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoon maple syrup (or 3/4 tablespoon of brown sugar if you don’t have maple syrup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon pepper, to taste

Cooking squash can be intimidating because of its notoriously hard, thick skin – but it’s nothing your average vegetable peeler can’t handle. If you’re having trouble, you can either put the squash in a pot of boiling water for about 5-10 minutes or the microwave for about 3-5 minutes. This will cook the squash slightly and soften the skin. The duration of how long you leave the squash in the pot or microwave will depend on how hard the skin of your squash is. When peeling the squash, I suggest cutting off the base and stem first. This will give you a base you can use to stabilize the squash.

Once you’ve peeled the squash, cut the squash in half lengthwise and using a metal spoon, spoon out the seeds and sinewy strings attached to the seeds. I sometimes keep the seeds to roast later, but it’s up to you. (Roasting the seeds has nothing to do with this dish.) Next, cut the squash into approximately 1-inch cubes or chunks.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Pour about 1/2 a tablespoon of the olive oil into the base of a baking pan or dish. Tip the pan back and forth to get even coverage along the bottom of the pan.

Place the cut squash into the baking pan. To reduce the clean-up effort, I usually line my baking pan with aluminum foil.

Next, drizzle the remaining oil over the cut squash. Add the thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Gently mix the cut squash so the pieces are generally evening covered and seasoned.

Drizzle the maple syrup over the squash. Again, gently mix the cut squash so the maple syrup is evenly dispersed amongst the pieces. If you are not using maple syrup, sprinkle the brown sugar over squash and mix.

Place your baking dish of squash into the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes. The time the squash requires for baking will depend on how deep your pan is, how big your pieces are, and how much squash you are baking.

Once the squash is cooked, I normally turn my oven over to “broil”. This turns on the top heat element of the oven, which produces a similar effect to grilling, only the heat is coming from above the dish. This will caramelize and brown the squash beautifully. If you do this, be sure to keep your oven door open a little so your oven does not overheat and turn the broil setting off. The process for broiling is very fast – usually all it takes is about 3-5 minutes, so be sure to keep an eye on your squash. When the edges are browned slightly, your dish is done.

What I love about this dish is it’s simple, easy to make, and relatively low- maintenance. If you prefer mashed squash, you can easily skip the broil step and mash the cooked squash after it’s done baking. Regardless of if you leave the squash chopped, or mash it, this is a great side to bring to a potluck, or to enjoy yourself at home.

Squash plated

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2 thoughts on “Behind a tough skin

  1. I’m sure it’s going to turn out beautifully! The main thing is careful not to add too much rosemary because it can be an overpowering herb. Otherwise, good luck and have fun! Let me know how it turns out.

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