Serving butternut squash is always a party-pleaser. These days it’s so convenient to prepare too, with pre-cut squash cubes purchased at your grocery store. Or choose other varieties of winter hard squash and pumpkins from the farmers’ market. Many stands sell cut slices or halves of Buttercup, Cheese Pumpkins or Cinderella Pumpkins (think of Cinderella’s carriage), Hokkaido, Hubbard, or Kabocha squash.
The prep is the same for all: remove the rind, cut into bite-sized pieces or cubes, then boil in lightly salted water until barely tender in order to moisten or it absorbs butter and oil like a sponge. Drain then saute until lightly browned. If you happen to have more than one hard squash or pumpkin on-hand, combine them. The photo shows a combination of Butternut Squash and Cheese Pumpkin sauteing in the pan.
Dry Marsala makes an amazing sauce for so many ingredients, with its hint of nutty dry-sweetness, similar to dry sherry. Emphasize Marsala’s character by adding crunchy walnuts to the gorgeous yellow-orange colored squash, and you’ll add a luscious touch to your holiday table. Not only is butternut squash a great side dish, it makes a really satisfying main dish with elegant flavor.
4 servings. Cooking time is 15 to 20 minutes.
4 cups (1 1/4 pounds rindless cubes or 20 ounces or 570 g) butternut squash cubes or winter hard squash/pumpkin cubes
3 tablespoons (44 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons (1 ounce or 28 g) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (2 ounces or 60 g) chopped walnuts
1/4 cup (2 ounces or 60 ml) dry Marsala or to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
To make the best sauteed butternut squash, it is important to apply this 2-step process. Using the neck of the butternut squash, cut the neck horizontally into 3/4-inch (2-cm) thick slices, making disks. Cut off the tough outer rind. Then cut into 3/4-inch (2-cm) thick strips. Cut crosswise 3/4-inch (2-cm) wide, making squares. (If using large pre-cut squash cubes, cut them into smaller cubes.)
1. Parboil: In a pot or broad pan, bring lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the squash cubes for 8 to 10 minutes or until barely tender. Insert a fork into some cubes, there should be a little resistance since the squash will be cooked a second time. Drain well to avoid splattering of oil-butter when added to the pan for sauteing. (If the squash is boiled until soft, it tends to fall apart during the sauteing stage.) Cool at this point and reserve in the refrigerator up to 2 days or continue cooking as follows:
Have all ingredients ready for sauteing since this dish cooks quickly. If using boiled squash that was stored in the refrigerator, please take it out 30 minutes before sauteing and rinse the boiled cubes under cool water to re-moisten, then drain well. * This is very important, so the squash remains moist and firm. If the squash is dried out, it absorbs too much oil-butter because it lacks moisture resulting in a dry dish with very little sauce. Butternut squash’s own moisture assures nice, plump cubes napped in Marsala Sauce.
2. Sauteing: In a non-stick pan, add the oil and butter. Over medium heat, warm the pan until the butter is melted completely and the pan is hot. Distribute the well-drained squash cubes across the bottom of the pan. (When adding the squash cubes, they may splatter the oil-butter if they are dripping water, so drain them ahead of time.) Turn the heat to medium-high and watch the pan, prevent the squash from burning.
Cook the cubes for 2 to 3 minutes without moving so the cubes’ sides on the bottom of the pan becomes golden. Season to taste. Quickly but carefully turn the cubes over and repeat sauteing for another 2 minutes. Add the walnuts during this second time and let them brown lightly. Not every side of the squash cube will brown evenly since you are sauteing, there will be lightly caramelized sides and soft sides for textural and flavor contrast.
Be attentive of the heat source and pour the dry Marsala directly into the bottom of the pan rather than on top of the squash. (If you prefer, turn the heat to low then pour in the dry Marsala, then turn the heat up to high volume.) It reduces quickly and concentrates within 1 minute. Immediately slide the pan off the heat. You’re done. Plate and tuck in…this is one of my favorite ways of preparing butternut squash.