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David Lissner
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Eat this! Butternut, a squash to know

City Provisions' butternut squash polenta.

City Provisions’ butternut squash polenta.

What it is: Butternut squash, a flavorful variety of Cucurbita moschata, is an edible gourd related to pumpkins and zucchini. A hard-shelled winter-storage squash, the butternut has a tan exterior, a long bulbous shape, and an orange flesh.

Its sweet, nutty flavor is similar to pumpkin, for which it makes a fine substitute once Halloween and Thanksgiving are over and the round orange squash become hard to find. In fact, most canned “pumpkin” is the same species, a nearer relative to butternut squash than to jack o’lantern-style pumpkins. Fresh butternut squash is usually available throughout the cold season.

Cleetus Friedman (Photo by Christina Noel Photography).

Cleetus Friedman

Where it comes from: Indigenous to North and Central America, winter squash seeds have been excavated from Mexican burial mounds dating to between 9,000 and 4,000 B.C. Squash was introduced to early European settlers by Native Americans. The name “butternut squash,” however, didn’t appear until 1944, when the squash was introduced to the commercial market. A sub-tropical plant, it grows mainly in warmer parts of the country, with Florida the top producer, followed by California.

What to do with it: Butternut squash is excellent roasted and it can also be steamed or microwaved. Cut pieces can be sauteed, as well, but because of the hard, inedible rind, it’s easiest to simply cut it in half and scoop out seeds before cooking; soften the squash by par-cooking and then peel and cut it into smaller pieces. Once cooked, the squash can be simply served in its rind, or the flesh can be scooped out, mashed and seasoned in a variety of ways. It lends itself to sweets such as pie as well as savory uses.

At City Provisions in Ravenswood, Chef Cleetus Friedman roasts and purees the squash and then stirs it into polenta for a rib-sticking dish, perfect for a cold night.

City Provisions’ butternut squash polenta
Chef Cleetus Friedman

3 pounds butternut squash, halved lengthwise, seeded
6 large garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
3-3/4 teaspoons minced fresh sage (chopped)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 3/4 cups water
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 cups coarse cornmeal
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the squash, cut side up, in large roasting pan. Place the garlic cloves in the squash cavities. Drizzle with the oil. Sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon sage and salt and pepper to taste. Cover with foil and bake until the squash is tender, about 1 hour.

Let cool slightly. Peel the squash. Transfer to a food processor and puree.

Combine the broth, water and1-1/2 teaspoons salt in a heavy large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the mixture is very thick and creamy, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Stir in the remaining fresh sage and the squash puree.

Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 6 servings.

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