12/17/2014 10:44 am ET Updated Feb 16, 2015

Cooking Off the Cuff: A Simple Way to Make Winter Squash Even More Versatile

Just this morning, I bought a nice firm butternut squash at the farmers' market and on my way home was thinking of how it could be incorporated into a first course for tonight's dinner party - a dish that could conceivably include already-cooked cannellini beans and perhaps a mixture of mushrooms. Those are ingredients that could easily be winterized into a hearty soup, for instance, but our main course of braised pork is going to be hearty enough, thank you very much. So I was thinking about a technique that would bring out the fruitiness of the squash (when you next cut into one, take a deep sniff and think about melon) and leave it slightly al dente without being tough and weird.

I hit on this simple procedure, which did exactly what I'd hoped it would: Once I'd trimmed a chunk of squash, I used a vegetable peeler to cut thin strips - length and width were not important; they just needed to be pasta-thin and flexible. I then steamed them, checking doneness starting at the one-minute mark. At that point, they were hot but leathery and not particularly nice to eat. Then, at 90 seconds, they were just where I wanted them: still flexible and with a very, very slight crunch, but palpably cooked. Salted and tossed with a few drops of oil to keep them from drying out, they'd be great in a room-temperature or warm winter salad or in another mix of vegetables. Or indeed in a pasta dish made with fresh egg noodles - that'd be kind of fun, since they feel rather noodle-like in the mouth.

It won't be until tonight that I know exactly how they're going to be combined with the beans and mushrooms, but I'm almost sure they'll make an appearance; I'll report back next week or sooner.

A Simple Way To Make Winter Squash Even More Versatile