How many times have our recipes asked us to peel, halve, seed, hold our breath, and cube a butternut squash, as if the stiff hourglass were as easy to slide a knife through as a block of tofu (and we were all in a peak state to cube-ify at the end of a long day)?
There’s even a cottage industry of hacks for making this prep work easier, including microwaving the whole wobbly thing or dousing it in boiling water to help coax the peel off (1).
But here’s the easiest way to peel a butternut squash: Don’t.
“Generally, if I’m roasting a squash I won’t bother peeling it first,” Yotam Ottolenghi, chef, cookbook author, and vegetable shepherd, wrote to me. “Butternut squash skin is actually incredibly delicious when roasted as it gets quite sticky and chewy in a way I particularly enjoy.”
When our executive producer Gabriella Mangino mentioned this genius tip to me, I sent myself a note to look into “the Ottolenghi recipe where he doesn’t peel the squash.” But after rabbit-holing in our cookbook library at Food52 one morning, I found that—aside from his desserts book with Helen Goh, Sweet—every single one of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks features at least one gorgeous, warm salad-y side where he serves the squash unpeeled.
His prep is casual, and decidedly not cubed. Instead, he hacks the squash into big chunks, tips them so their skin leans against the hot sheet pan, and roasts them till they blister and brown. All that varies are the co-stars. In Ottolenghi: burnt eggplant and pomegranate molasses; in Plenty: sweet spices, lime, and green chile. Jerusalem? Red onion with tahini and za’atar. NOPI? Ginger tomatoes and lime yogurt.
And the combination in Plenty More—perhaps even simpler than Simple’s lentils and Dolcelatte cheese—is the recipe I’m sharing here: topped with a quick cilantro sauce (or insert-your-favorite-herb-here sauce, for the cilantrophobes), sriracha yogurt (aka sriracha + yogurt), and crunchy toasted pepitas. It will be bright and welcome on a Thanksgiving table and perhaps even more so as we crawl deeper into winter.
But I hope you won’t stop with this recipe. Take this intel to every winter squash recipe you’re tackling, butternut or otherwise: If you really want a supersmooth texture, like in a soup or mash, fine—peel it, though Ottolenghi recommends doing so after cooking, when the peels have naturally loosened. But if you’re just looking for hunks to anchor a salad or side dish, embrace the skins as he so clearly has.
I will offer one caveat: If your squash looks like it’s been hiding out in storage for months or is extremely difficult to carve through, you should probably avoid wrestling with it at all (2). I learned this the hard way years ago when trying to serve a dinner party some weathered delicata squash, formerly known as “the one kind you don’t have to peel.” The skins were so grizzled and chalky we had to pick them up and eat the slices like ribs.
But for the vast majority of the squash kingdom, our lives just got simpler and, in all honesty, more delicious. The skin is now my favorite part, taut and smooth to offset the steamy, molten middles; much like a steak with a good crust or ice cream capped with Magic Shell, the competing texture is what we crave. Leave it to Ottolenghi to teach us new ways to find it.
• 1 large butternut squash
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 6 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 3/4 ounces
• cilantro, leaves and stems, plus extra leaves for garnish
• 1 small clove garlic, crushed
• 2 1/2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
• 1 cup Greek yogurt
• 1 1/2 teaspoons Sriracha or another savory chile sauce
• salt and black pepper
(1) Thanks to Natalie Cruz for this easier squash-peeling tip, which I will turn to next time I’m trying a recipe that really won’t let me off the hook.
(2) Instead, for puree you don’t have to wrestle for, halve the squash and roast it cut-side-down (seeds and all). The seeds and guts will spoon out more easily after cooking—a tip I learned from Food52er AntoniaJames!
More from Food52:
Food52’s Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker
A “Why Didn’t I Think of That?” Way to Peel Potatoes
14 Thanksgiving Desserts to Make (& Freeze!) Right Now
How to Work With Dietary Restrictions on Thanksgiving
A Cheat Sheet to Get Rid of Every Type of Holiday Stain
21 Inventive Recipes to Use Leftover Mashed Potatoes