If recipes requiring peeled and chopped winter squash wound up being eh or even just okay, I’d swear off peeling squash forever. But the sad fact is, the payoff is usually tremendous. So I soldier on.
Sure, all that slicing and peeling is tedious, but that’s not what bothers me most. What gets me is what the little buggers do to my hands.
At first I thought I was the only one who had this problem. Every time I’d get the brilliant idea to peel and chop a butternut squash, my hands would end up looking chapped and raw, with a strange film covering the surface of my skin. No matter how many times I’d wash my hands and slather them with lotion, that strange sensation wouldn’t go away. I felt like Lady Macbeth.
But then I heard more family and friends making the same complaint. “I just spent all afternoon chopping up squash,” my mother once said to me over the phone, “and now my hands look like I stuck them in acid. I hate what that vegetable does to my skin!”
So it isn’t just me. And after a little Googling, I came across a scientific paper entitled “Butternut Squash (Curcurbita moschata) dermatitis,” written by two dermatologists. Apparently, a compound in butternut squash can cause contact dermatitis, a localized rash or irritation of the skin. This isn’t necessarily the case for everyone, but it happens to enough people that now I don’t feel like I’m crazy.
You can imagine my reaction, then, when I saw a phenomenal recipe for saffron risotto with roasted butternut squash, for which the first instructions read, “Peel squash, remove the seeds and chop into 3/4″ cubes.” Oh no, not that again. But the recipe looked so good and I couldn’t get it out of my head. There had to be another way.
That’s when it came to me: rubber gloves. A perfect solution? As it turns out, nearly, and it was certainly better than raw hands or — horrors — no risotto at all. I threw on a pair of tight-fitting rubber gloves and peeled away — a task that does not become any less tedious with gloves, but at least I didn’t need to sacrifice my skin in the process.
So problem solved. I peeled the squash, the squash didn’t peel me, and I made a risotto that was most definitely worth the effort.
Edited to add: If you’ve had a bad skin reaction after peeling and chopping squash, wash your hands with cool water and soap, then rub some cortisone cream all over your hands. This should help heal the contact dermatitis, though the rash and strange sensation will not disappear immediately.
Saffron Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style
Note: If you can’t find pancetta (an Italian smoked bacon), you can substitute regular bacon. Vegetarians could leave it out altogether. Also, saffron can be quite pricey, but Trader Joe’s sells small jars of it for a very reasonable price.
1 butternut squash (~2 lbs)
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups low-sodium chicken stock (vegetarians could use vegetable stock)
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup minced shallots (~2 large)
2 ounces pancetta
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400F.
Peel the butternut squash. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to separate the squash into two parts: the straight, upper shaft and the lower bulbous portion. Stand the top part upright and, beginning at the top, slice downward to peel the squash. Cut the bulbous portion in half, scoop out the seeds and peel in the same fashion as the top portion.
Chop the squash into 3/4″ cubes (you should have ~6 cups). Spread the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25-30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.
Meanwhile, pour the chicken stock into a small saucepan and cover it will a lid. Bring the stock to a simmer, then reduce heat to low to keep it simmering.
In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the pancetta and shallots on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the shallots are translucent but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with the butter. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes.
Add 2 full ladles of the simmering stock to the rice, along with the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, about 5 minutes or so. Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total. You may not end up using all the stock; keep tasting and checking as you reach the 30 minute mark.
Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes and Parmesan cheese. Mix well and mangia!
Yield: 4-6 servings