I am already on my fourth local butternut squash of the season. I’ve peeled, chopped and roasted every single one of them with a glug of olive oil, sliced onions and halved fingerling potatoes. It’s an autumnally delicious side dish; works well with chicken, pork, beef and lamb; and leftovers bulk up salads beautifully. Still, making and serving squash the same way week in, week out, is going to get old quick. This year, I’m taking preemptive action to prevent winter squash burnout.

I find prepping any ingredient once in bulk fashion on the weekend and using it in myriad ways throughout the work week is key to getting dinner on the table before 8 p.m. Peeling, chopping and roasting squash or simmering chunks in broth until tender and pureeing them until smooth will continue to be part of my Sunday afternoon ritual. I’m simply on the hunt for new ways to use these pre-cooked things as exciting ingredients. I’ve settled on using winter squash in egg dishes and turning their puree into sauces.

When I cook with butternut squash, or those diminutive honey nut squashes with the same hourglass shape, I am typically annoyed by how different the top part of the squash is to its bottom. The bottoms are hard to cut and when you finally get them cut, the pieces are uneven and therefore cook unevenly.

I’ve taken to buying two squashes at a time, cutting off the tops right at the waist, if you’ll indulge the carryover from the hourglass analogy. I peel, dice, and roast the upper portion of the squash. The egg dish I’m currently obsessed with adds these roasted bits to is a savory mushroom bread pudding. It can work all day long for a busy cook – serve it with maple syrup in the morning, a salad at lunch or with local sausages for supper. And once it’s baked, it freezes and reheats like a dream.

Looks and taste: A sunny-side-up egg cooked inside a sautéed squash ring served with sausage. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Going back to the butternut bottoms, I scoop out the seeds (toast those!). Then I place them whole, cut side up, in a covered dish with an inch of water and steam them for about 10 minutes on high in the microwave. I use these cooked bottoms as either edible bowls for soup, or I slice them into rings, a prospect made all the easier (and safer) by their softer, cooked consistency. I store the rings in the refrigerator and sauté a couple at a time in butter or bacon grease and crack an egg into each when I need to make a quick, hearty meal.

Getting to the bottom of a pot of squash soup has become more of a chore now that I only need to feed two in this empty nest. I’ve taken to diluting the last cup or two of my squash soups to make sauces for noodles. Added to Asian noodles, a cup of butternut squash soup diluted with ½ cup strong ginger tea and zipped up with a teaspoon of red curry paste and a tablespoon of peanut butter, makes a fine curry noodle dish. On the Italian side of the house, I add ½ cup pasta cooking water, ¼ cup of grated cheese and lots of black pepper and my husband has no idea that I had no idea what we were having for dinner until he asked 15 minutes earlier.

I hazard a guess I am not the only one looking for more ways to easily and willingly use winter squashes in the coming months. Please do send me your best, most delicious ideas.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Savory Winter Squash and Mushroom Bread Pudding. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Savory Winter Squash and Mushroom Bread Pudding
I like to use earthy maitake mushrooms in this recipe. Also, if you don’t have day-old bread, tear fresh bread into bite-sized pieces, spread them out on a sheet pan and stick it in the preheating oven as it warms to temperature to help dry them out for use in this recipe.

Serves 8-10

3 cups ½-inch cubes of winter squash (from about a 2-pound squash)
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 ½ cups milk, half & half or cream
4 large eggs
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
9 cups torn day-old bread
1 cup freshly grated Alpine-style cheese (about 4 ounces)
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Toss the squash, mushrooms and onions in the olive oil. Spread the vegetables into a single layer on a sheet pan. Sprinkle them with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Bake until the squash is tender, 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven; reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. 

Use a whisk to completely combine the milk or cream, eggs, garlic, thyme, nutmeg, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. Add the bread, half of the cheese and the roasted vegetables. Stir the mixture gently, and let stand for 10 minutes. Grease a 2-quart baking dish with butter. Spoon the mixture into the dish.

Bake for 30 minutes, sprinkle with the remaining cheese, and continue to bake until the pudding is set and lightly browned, about 15 minutes more. Let pudding rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.


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