The best way to roast butternut squash

roasted butternut squash
© Robyn Mackenzie

Here's everything you need to know about roasting the iconic winter squash.

While the world at large is loving (and loving to hate) all things pumpkin spice this time of year, those of us who are past Peak Pumpkin are looking at other members of the winter squash family, like the big beautiful butternut.

This isn't breaking news, but I have to say it anyway, butternut squash is so good. It offers some of the same color and flavors of pumpkin and sweet potato – sweet and earthy – but with a perfect, more succulent texture. It is delicious, affordable, and very versatile. Plus, super healthy. Exhibit A:

Butternut squash nutrition

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one cup of cooked butternut squash (205 grams) has a mere 82 calories, but all of this:

  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Fiber: 7 grams
  • Vitamin A: 457% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Vitamin C: 52% RDI
  • Vitamin E: 13% RDI
  • Thiamine (B1): 10% RDI
  • Niacin (B3): 10% RDI
  • Pyridoxine (B6): 13% RDI
  • Folate (B9): 10% RDI
  • Magnesium: 15% RDI
  • Potassium: 17% RDI
  • Manganese: 18% RDI

How to roast butternut squash

I have been roasting these orange-hued beauties since I could pick one up by myself, and I have come to this conclusion: The best way to roast them is to roast them in halves.

Here's why: One cut means not wrestling with the awkward thing while attacking it with a large knife; It is easier to clean and peel; And handling two pieces instead of dozens of little cubes or half moons is just easier all around. Plus, it's delicious, of course! The flesh doesn't dry out like it can when cut into smaller pieces; instead, it stays tender and velvety.

IN HALVES

  • Cut the squash in half, being careful since they have a tough skin and are unwieldy.
  • Remove the seeds and save them for roasting.
  • Place cut side up on a parchment-covered baking pan.
  • Rub the cut side with olive or coconut oil.
  • Optional: I add sea salt, a little maple syrup, and a sprinkle of cayenne for a little extra camelization and the salty-spicy-sweet trifecta that I always crave.
  • Bake at 350 degrees on a middle or top rack for 30 and 45 minutes. I like it to get a bit candied on top; it is done when tender.
  • The halves are lovely and rustic served as is, but the flesh can also be scooped out and chopped into cubes or slices, or pureed for soup.
  • IN CUBES
    Now all of that said, there are times when cubing it up before cooking has its advantages. There is more surface area to get more roasty caramelization going on, and that is admittedly pretty delicious, especially if those chunks are going to be the star in something like a grain salad. While it is a lot more work, here's what I have found is the easiest:

    • Peel the whole thing with a good vegetable peeler.
    • Remove the seeds and save them for roasting.
    • Cut the squash in half and then into cubes. Be careful to keep your fingers intact.
    • Toss the cubes with olive or coconut oil; and the optional step above.
    • Spread them out with enough room on a baking sheet with parchment paper for easier clean-up, or without for extra caramelization.
    • Bake at 350 degrees on a middle or top rack for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and tender.

    Can you eat butternut squash skin?

    Given the food waste situation, we always advocate for eating all the parts when possible. I have yet to find a way to eat butternut squash skin, save for some of the more caramelized bits when roasting with the one-cut method – so after scraping away every last bit of flesh, I feed the skin to the compost bin.

    (Update: Reader Frank can not believe that I compost the peels. He writes: "toss skins in olive oil and salt roast and place on top of butternut squash soup with a dollop of creme freche and enjoy." I have to say, for someone who always uses the scraps wherever I can, I can not believe that I ever composted the butternut peels, too!)

    According to cookbook author and vegetable expert Deborah Madison, “Delicata is C. pepo, which also includes acorn, some pumpkins, scallop squash, zucchini, crookneck, vegetable marrow, gourds etc. Delicata and acorn, which commonly get described as ‘winter squash’ (probably because they can sit around without refrigeration) have soft skins that can be eaten. But in my opinion they are best eaten, skins and all, earlier in the season rather than months after they’ve been harvested. They’re more papery and tender then. What we call winter squash (butternut, etc.) are other species of Cucurbita (maxima and moschata) – their skins are tougher and not that edible. I have noticed, though, that very newly harvested, uncured butternut can have soft, edible skins.”

    For ideas on how to use butternut squash and friends, see related stories below.

    The best way to roast butternut squash
    Here's everything you need to know about roasting the iconic winter squash.

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