If you've run out of potatoes or just want a change of pace, substituting butternut squash for the potatoes in beef stew makes perfect sense because it's also a winter food and easily available. Add an abundance of vegetables along with the squash, such as carrots and peas, and cut back on the amount of meat to create a stew that is both healthy and hearty. Because one butternut squash weighs from two to three pounds, use only part of it in the stew and save the rest for soup or a butternut gratin for a few days later.
Bigger Is Better
Like all winter squashes, butternut is best from late fall through early winter. Larger squash have more flavor than smaller ones, and those that are extremely hard are better than those that have some give when you press them. Look for those with an evenly-colored skin and a thick neck. Butternut squash lasts for months in a well-ventilated area and cool area. Once the squash is cut open, it lasts for three to four days in the refrigerator.
Butternut's golden-orange flesh gives beef stew an eye-appeal that isn't there with potatoes. When you mix butternut with bright orange carrots, brown beef and green bits of parsley sprinkled on after cooking, your stew brightens up a meal even before it's eaten. More flavorful than potatoes, butternut has an almost fruity flavor that adds a new dimension to beef stew. That said, its flavor is still milder tasting than acorn or Hubbard squash.
Balancing Your Sweet Tooth
Because a butternut squash contains more sugar than a potato, you need to balance it with acidic or slightly bitter ingredients to keep the sweetness from overwhelming the stew. The earthiness of herbs naturally counterbalances butternut's sweetness, so use a bit more bay leaf, sage or thyme than you normally would. After the stew finishes cooking, stir in a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar for an acidic finish that you won't be able to taste but that will make the stew taste better.
Down to Business
Unlike potatoes, butternut squash have very tough skins and hard flesh. To remove the skin and cut the squash, pierce the rind with a fork and microwave the squash for two minutes. Use your heaviest knife or cleaver and slice off the stem so you can set the squash flat. Then cut off the skin in long slices, and cut through the squash lengthwise before cutting it into 1- to 1 1/2-inch chunks. Simmer the squash in the stew until it is soft, for about 20 minutes.
- The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion; Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst
- Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini; Elizabeth Schneider
- The Flavor Bible; Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
- How to Cook Everything Vegetarian; Mark Bittman