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The case of a certain squash purée

Sometimes, I must admit, I fall down on the job. Take, for example, the case of a certain squash purée. I first made it three whole years ago, and though it has since made many (sold out! standing room only!) appearances at my table, it has somehow never been documented here. I suppose I should offer some sort of fancy excuse, but really, all I can say is this: it just wont sit still for the camera. It’s silky, slinky, beguiling stuff, and it always vanishes before I can snap a photo. But when I made a batch this weekend, I – having learned from my mistakes, not to mention being rather persistent – plunked it right down for a photo session, tout de suite, before it could sneak away. And so, with no further ado, I am delighted to introduce at long last – in a rare moment sans eager forks and spoons – this seductive bowl of butternut squash, maple syrup, and sweet butter.

Now, it may not sound like anything out of the ordinary, because on paper - or a computer screen - it really is pretty simple. Heck, it has only five ingredients, including water and salt. Its warming flavor is exactly what you expect from butternut squash, but miraculously, even better. A nudge of maple syrup makes the squash’s earthy sweetness step up and shine, while butter smooths its starchy edges into submission. I like to think of it as the savory equivalent of a chocolate pudding, all soft corners and easy swallows. It’s smooth and soothing, the sort of thing that makes you want to lift the plate to your chin and - for lack of a more ladylike expression - shovel it in. All of which makes it a natural for the Thanksgiving table, where comfort reigns, as well as for any number of wintry occasions; and hence my hurry to tell you about it - three years late.

I have made this purée each Thanksgiving since 2003, when I stumbled upon the recipe and made it for my mother, myself, and my boyfriend-at-the-time in my cramped apartment kitchen. Being mainly a vegetarian in those days, I served it alongside a spinach soufflé, with braised red cabbage and my favorite biscuits. [My mother, a true sport, gamely agreed to a fowl-less holiday.] It was our first Thanksgiving without my father, and we left an empty place setting where he would have sat. In retrospect, I think he would have preferred that we pile his plate high with turkey and stuffing, but since that was not an option, maybe I should have made him an offering of butternut squash purée. He always had a weakness for anything with its sort of texture - mashed potatoes, Cream of Wheat, scrambled eggs, soft polenta. Knowing him, he would have stirred a big splash of cream into the squash, turning it from glowing orange to a muted, frothy gold. Maybe I’ll try that one day, if I can manage to keep from eating it all first.

Butternut Purée with Maple Syrup
Adapted from Gourmet, November 1993 and 2003

This is one of those simple, simple recipes that sneak into your repertoire so seamlessly that you hardly even notice. If you’re anything like me, you’ll wake up one morning to find that you’ve already made it a half-dozen times. Aside from being delicious from the first spoonful, the best thing about this purée is that it actually improves with age. Try to make it at least a few hours ahead – if not a day or two. A little rest in the fridge allows the flavors to gel, and the texture, too, settles into a silkier state. If you don’t have a food processor, you could probably do just fine with a potato masher, although the texture won’t be quite as smooth. No one will mind, though; trust me. And a word about the maple syrup: its flavor is not pronounced here - it brings only a subtle sweetness, no more - so if you like a strong maple flavor, you might add more than I call for. Note also that this recipe is easy to halve, but I hardly find it necessary. It will get eaten, no matter how much you make.

5 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into rough 1-inch pieces
2 cups water
1 ¾ tsp salt, or to taste
1/3 cup maple syrup, or to taste
3 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into dice

Place the squash and the water in a large (5- or 6-quart) pot. [The water will not cover the squash.] Sprinkle 1 tsp of the salt over the squash. Place the pot over medium-high heat, cover it, and bring it to a simmer. Adjust the heat as necessary, and simmer until the squash is very tender, about 15 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the squash to a food processor and process it until smooth, adding cooking liquid as needed. I don’t add much liquid – only a little splash or two if the food processor seems to gum up. You will probably need to process the squash in batches, transferring the purée into a large bowl as you go. Stir in the maple syrup, butter, and salt – the squash should still be hot enough to melt the butter – and taste to adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve warm.

Note: This purée can – and, I say, should – be made little bit ahead and chilled in an airtight container. Reheat in the microwave or a 350-degree oven, adding a bit of water if needed.

Yield: 8-10 servings


Anonymous Jennifer Jeffrey said...

Mmmmm! This sounds like just the thing for these cold, rainy nights. Simple and elegant.

7:58 PM, November 13, 2006  
Blogger Maman said...

Molly that sounds delicious, but I have a way to cook the squash easier...

Take the squash.

Poke holes all over it... I try to make sure that the reach the center core to avoid unfortunate consequences.

Then microwave at full blash a couple of minutes at a time until the squash is soft.

When it is all soft... take a big knife and slice it in half... take a spoon and scoop out the seeds. THen scoop out the soft, delicious, fully cooked guts and mix in what you want....

I actually had a friend of my daughter's mother call me for my secret recipe. The child is still a notoriously picky eater... I mixed the squash with butter, salt and pepper...

Happy squash!

8:11 PM, November 13, 2006  
Blogger s@bd said...

how have i only found you now?

how is this possible?

how will you deal with my never-ending stalking which commenced LAST NIGHT when I tried to find the perfect recipe to use up the egg whites I had leftover from making ice cream and found your recipe for the chocolate covered macaroons and made them and am now addicted to them and to you?

(how will you ever find your way through that last sentence?)

8:20 PM, November 13, 2006  
Blogger Catherine said...

hi molly! question: do you put the salt in the water or over the squash? or both? thanks!

11:09 PM, November 13, 2006  
Blogger Nina said...

I bet it would also taste heavenly made with kabocha squash, with a dollop of whole milk yogurt, fromage blanc or sour cream on top.

3:30 AM, November 14, 2006  
Anonymous Jen W. said...

And now I am going to make myself some cream of wheat for breakfast, just because you mentioned it (and butternut squash puree probably isn't a breakfast food). I'll add the maple syrup and butter, though.

3:55 AM, November 14, 2006  
Blogger Pille said...

Molly, your writing style makes me jealous:) I wonder if I can use the maple syrup treatment on pumpkin, as I cannot find butternut squash here in Estonia sadly? There is only one way to find out, I guess...

4:44 AM, November 14, 2006  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

I love squash made like this...tastes so sinfully good!

5:16 AM, November 14, 2006  
Blogger Janice said...

You're killing me with all these lovely autumnal posts! I'm definitely making this puree this week, mmm!

5:25 AM, November 14, 2006  
Anonymous Jen said...

I have 2 butternut squashes sitting in my fridge that I've been too lazy to breakdown. As I still have tons of maple syrup leftover from making Jimmy's fabulous shortbread waffles, I think I'm going to give this puree a try. =)

5:40 AM, November 14, 2006  
Anonymous Luisa said...

s@bd's comment just totally made me smile... Lovely post, Molly!

7:20 AM, November 14, 2006  
Blogger Il Fornaio said...

Molly, you are rocking my Thanksgiving. Last night, for a test run, I made your gateaux au chocolat fondant in prep for Thanksgiving (we're chocolate eaters in my house, no one touchs the obligatory pumpkin pie) and it was lie down and moan fantastic. Now you have provided me with my side dish offering!

7:38 AM, November 14, 2006  
Anonymous ann said...

mmmmm... My mom makes a version of this, but in place of the water she uses OJ.
last month, quite by mistake, i discovered during a meal of squash puree and lamb that the puree is made even BETTER (which i thought was damn near impossible) by stirring in a few shreds of chiffonaded mint that was destined for the lamb
i could not agree with you more on this recipe...
its knock your socks off freaking unbelievably delicious!

8:40 AM, November 14, 2006  
Blogger christianne said...

Looks good. Think it would work with acorn squash? I just bought one the other day because it looked so cool...but now I have to cook it!

10:19 AM, November 14, 2006  
Blogger tannaz said...

YUM! I just made the soupier sister of this recipe last month -- roasted butternut squash, maple syrup, and butter, but also roasted garlic, sage, broth, and a bit of cream. The roasting gives it even deeper caramelly flavor (and prevents me from having to peel the thing raw!) I'm kind of on a squash kick this fall.

11:07 AM, November 14, 2006  
Blogger Meg said...

That looks incredible, and I don't even like squash!

11:39 AM, November 14, 2006  
Blogger Julie said...

Isn't it funny how some of the most wonderful recipes take the worst photographs? You did a very nice job with this one, however! I LOVE butternut squash. I started eating prepared almost exactly like this at the cafeteria at Boston College. That was some good dining hall food. That puree and a spinach souffle sounds like a great meal as is.

11:45 AM, November 14, 2006  
Blogger hannah said...

ok molly. i could almost say that this isnt fair. i just blew through a batch of sweet potato soup and now this? how much orange food can a girl indulge in?? plenty i say! oh lord...

2:37 PM, November 14, 2006  
Anonymous jules said...

love the idea of maple syrup and squash...good photo with a tough subject.

I'm really lazy when it comes to peeling squash and usually just quarter lengthwise drizzle with olive oil and roast then scoop out the flesh and puree...heaps less work plus you get the bonus of the lovely roasted flavours

6:09 PM, November 14, 2006  
Blogger Lydia said...

No end of wonderful things to do with squash. Thanks for adding to my squash recipe collection!

5:31 AM, November 15, 2006  
Blogger Lia said...

I love anything with butternut squash and this looks partciularly scrumptious. I'm pretty sure it's going to be one of my contributions to Thanksgiving this year, along with those crackers from last week (there's that Molly curse again!!!).

7:39 AM, November 15, 2006  
Anonymous Anastasia said...

My Dad does something similiar except he stirs nutmeg and cinnamon in the mix. I've also found that dark brown sugar is good if you don't have maple syrup on hand. It is a good thing to do to acorn squash, yams or sweet potates.

It is soo good!

3:41 PM, November 16, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

[Oh my goodness, I am SO going to be fired from my position as Ms. Orangette! I've been terribly late in responding to your comments recently, dear readers, and I apologize. I'm traveling for work this week, with spotty computer time. Please forgive.]

Now - phew! - that aside, Jennifer, this is perfect fare for cold, rainy nights. Lord knows Seattle has been putting it to the test...

Maman, your daughter is one lucky girl. Your squash sounds delicious! And yes, microwaving it is a great trick - even though I do get irrationally scared by the possibility of the squash exploding. I'm kind of a wimp.

s@bd, oh my, I know. Those macaroons are completely! and! totally! addictive! If you have to stalk me and my Orangette, I understand.

Smart question, Catherine! I sprinkle the salt over the squash. I've revised the recipe instructions to make that a little more specific. Thanks for asking!

Oh yes, Nina, that sounds wonderful! Or, hey, how about creme fraiche on top? I've got some in the fridge, so I might have to do a taste test...

Jen W., you and I (and my late dad) may be the only people in the world who don't turn up their noses at the thought of Cream of Wheat. It's so sad - of all hot cereals, it seems to be the most misunderstood. But with maple syrup and butter? So good.

Thank you, Pille! And yes, you can most certainly use a sweet pumpkin instead. I used to use "potiron" all the time when I was living in France and butternut squash wasn't easy to come by...

I heartily agree, wheresmymind!

Janice, I am just loving writing these autumnal posts - and having a good excuse to put some of my favorite holiday flavors on our regular dinner table! Hope you liked the squash as much as we do.

Jen, quite clearly, fate is telling you to make this puree. Go forth!

Aw, thank you, dear Luisa.

Oh, Il Fornaio, I know! Isn't that cake amazing? Brandon and I are actually considering using it (or, rather, 30 of them) for our wedding cake.

Ann, I will most definitely have to try this with a sprinkling of mint. Thanks for the tip! And as for the orange juice, that would be lovely. I would also be inclined to try replacing the water with good apple juice or cider. Mmm.

Christianne, you've probably already found something to do with your acorn squash - I'm so late in replying! - but if not, yes, you could definitely use it here. The only problems I can imagine are: 1) acorn squash can be hard to peel, what with its ridges and such; and 2) its flavor, to me, is a bit less full and rich and sweet than butternut squash. I love acorn squash, but it can be hit or miss - sometimes, it just has very little flavor. But there's no reason why you can't try it here, and a dash of maple syrup and butter can improve anything.

Oooh, Tannaz, I just hopped over to your site and found your soup recipe - whooooop! It sounds delicious. For anyone curious, here it is.

Thanks, Meg!

Julie, it sounds like you had quite the college dining hall! Mine was pretty good, but we didn't have any butternut squash puree. Harumph.

Hannah, I LOVE orange food. Which, of course, means that I'll be making your sweet potato soup asap!

Jules, Brandon is in your camp - he wants to try this with roasted squash. I'll bet those toasty, caramelized flavors would be dreamy here.

It's my pleasure, Lydia!

Ah ha! The Molly curse continues! You can't escape me, Lia.

Great suggestions, Anastasia. Thank you!

6:27 PM, November 16, 2006  
Anonymous Alicia A. said...

Better late than never (finding you, I mean.) Maybe I can learn to cook after all...

6:46 AM, November 17, 2006  
Blogger AnnieKNodes said...

I really, really, really want to LIKE Butternut Squash, but can't seem to make anything that wows me. Maybe I've gotten too complex? I will try this, lady!

12:13 PM, November 18, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm relatively new to Orangette, but you've come highly recommended by another foodie friend...love your recipes and writing!
This sounds so good, but I admit to a strong addiction to Tom Douglas' squash soup recipe (in his first cookbook). The carmelized onions adds almost as much sweetness as a syrup would. And the dollop of thyme-creme fraiche? MUST have. This as become our Thanksgiving starter course staple--even though it means I now make enough for 30. For anyone looking for another squash alternative, this is a great one, and it gets better after a day or two, so make enough for leftovers--with a fresh baguette, some fruit, and a wedge of cheese or pate, it's the perfect no-work, rainy-day comfort meal. Cheers, all!

12:14 PM, November 19, 2006  
Anonymous Kitarra said...

I absolutely loved this squash recipe! I am always looking for new ways to add butternut squash to my diet and this was delicious. And I turned the leftovers in a yummy soup! I also altered the recipe some. You can view the results here: http://www.cookingdebauchery.com/cooking_debauchery/2006/11/roasted_buttern.html

11:25 AM, November 28, 2006  
Blogger Thea said...

Perfect! I was in a pinch for a Thanksgiving side dish and you came through! I have a batch of the puree in my fridge right now, cooling, and my official taste-tester/husband and I both heartily approve. The flavor is beautiful.

This is the third of your recipes that I've tried, I think (the chewy chocolate cookies and tomato sauce were the others), and they've all been excellent.

Can't wait for the cookbook...

11:01 AM, November 22, 2007  

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