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Bringing in the Season with Butternut Squash

Cooking with seasonal foods is one of the best ways to produce fresh, delicious meals. And as anyone who's ever sipped a steaming hot bowl of rich, velvety butternut squash soup on a chilly fall afternoon knows, one graceful...

Cooking with seasonal foods is one of the best ways to produce fresh, delicious meals. And as anyone who's ever sipped a steaming hot bowl of rich, velvety butternut squash soup on a chilly fall afternoon knows, one graceful gourd is especially scrumptious at this time of year. If you've never cooked with butternut squash before, you may be wondering what you need to know. Well, we've got the scoop. Read on for five tasty tips on all things butternut squash.

Butternut squash
A colorful glimpse of fall's beautiful bounty.

1. Selecting Your Squash

Butternut squash is typically in season during the months of September and October. How do you know if it's ripe? It should be a solid beige color and feel heavy for its size. Avoid squash with dark patches, deep cuts, punctures, and bruises.

Short on shelf space in the fridge? No worries -- squash will keep in a cool, dark spot for several weeks.

2. To Peel or Not to Peel?

While you'll need to peel your squash if you're looking for the smooth finish of a soup or puree, you can bypass the peeling when roasting a whole squash or chopped squash chunks. Not only does this give it a more rustic, seasonally appropriate vibe, but it also adds textural contrast.

For many, the question of peeling or not peeling butternut squash when cooking with it is a matter of personal preference so feel free to experiment to determine what you like best.

Butternut squash
Flesh and seeds alike are full of flavor and nutrition.

3. Getting Your Prep On

If you do land in the "peel" pile and you're not handy with a paring knife or standard peeler, a serrate Y-peeler makes the job considerably easier.

Experts recommend first slicing off the bottom and top off the squash so you'll have an even product to work with. Next, slice it in half at its center point, rest the flat end against a cutting board, and peel in a downward motion. In addition to the peel, make sure all tinges of green have been removed as well leaving behind only the tender, orange flesh.

One last tip? Microwaving the squash for approximately two minutes prior to peeling can soften the skin and make the task easier -- just be sure to pierce it with a fork a few times first.

3. Save the Seeds

Pumpkin seeds haven't cornered the market when it comes to fall seeds for snacking. When preparing your squash, don't discard the seeds. Instead, transform them into a crunchy treat by roasting them until crisp and golden.

In addition to savory recipes incorporating everything from ground cumin to za'atar, tasty twists abound. Our pick? Cinnamon-Vanilla Roasted Butternut Squash Seeds.

A little-known bonus fact? Butternut squash seeds are full of heart-healthy fats and plenty of protein, too.

4. Cut the Cream

Most people assume that butternut squash soup gets its creamy texture from, well, cream. However, the rich, indulgent texture can actually be achieved with no cream at all with ample roasting time and a good blender.

The deep, complex flavors in this Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger mean you won't even miss the cream.

5. Think Beyond Soup

Soup may be the most well-known of recipes showcasing butternut squash as its star ingredient, but it's far from the only one. A few of our favorites include Ina Garten's five-star Caramelized Butternut Squash, Martha Stewart's Squash Hash with Kale and Baked Eggs and Taste of Home's alternative to the traditional pumpkin dessert, Butternut Squash Cake Roll.

But did you know that butternut squash can also be eaten raw? The trick to this recipe for Squash and Root Vegetable Slaw? Shredding, marinating and chilling the vegetables overnight.

Autumn is upon us, and while pumpkins may claim the spotlight when it comes to decorating at this festive time of year, butternut squash is many a professional chef's favorite seasonal flavor. Browse cookbooks and more at Cilantro The Cooks Shop to start adding to your recipe repertoire today.