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09/10/2014 07:13 EDT | Updated 11/10/2014 05:59 EST

10 Things: Thinking beyond mashed with 10 fresh ways to use butternut squash

Just as you're finally finishing up the mounds of zucchini that have haunted you all summer, autumn's overabundance of butternut squash hits you. Time for some fresh ideas.

But before we get cooking, let's talk prep. Butternut's thick skin and rock-hard flesh can make the peeling, seeding and chopping part of the meal a challenge. No wonder those bags of prepped squash chunks at the grocer are so popular. But they also are pricy, so let's talk tips for making the work a little easier.

Start by setting your squash on its side on the cutting board. Use a heavy chef's knife to slice off the top (stem end) and bottom (wider end). Slicing off the bottom reveals the seedy-stringy interior. It also gives you a flat base so you can stand your squash upright without it wobbling. Now use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin.

Once the squash is peeled, grab your melon baller. You don't have one? Get one. It doesn't need to be fancy, just sturdy. A melon baller — with its sharp edges designed for scooping and scraping — is the best tool for quickly and cleanly removing the seeds and strings.

Once the interior is scraped clean, return the squash to the cutting board on its side. Cut the squash in two crosswise, cutting just above the bulbous bottom. At this point, you have manageable chunks of squash with flat edges. And that means those chunks can be easily cut or chopped without wobbling.

10 FRESH WAYS WITH BUTTERNUT SQUASH:

For simplicity, every recipe idea assumes you've peeled and seeded the squash.

— Patties: Cut a squash into 2-inch pieces. Microwave until just tender. Allow to cool slightly, then arrange small mounds of cubes on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Use the bottom of a bowl or mug to gently smash each mound into a patty about 1/2 inch thick. Brush the top of each patty with olive oil, then season with salt, pepper and smoked paprika. Bake at 450 F until browned and crispy, flipping the patties after about 10 minutes.

— Hummus: Boil 2 cups squash cubes in water until tender. Drain well, then combine in a food processor with 1/4 cup tahini, 2 cloves garlic, the zest and juice of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, and salt and pepper, to taste. Process until smooth, then spoon into a bowl. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and chopped Peppadew peppers. Serve with pita chips.

— Salad: Boil 2 cups squash cubes in water until just tender. Drain thoroughly and set aside to cool. Toss the cooled squash with 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, 1 cup cooked shelled edamame, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar and 1 cup chopped roasted red peppers. Season with salt and pepper, then top with shredded manchego cheese and toasted pine nuts.

— Hash: Cut the squash into 2-inch chunks, then add to the food processor. Pulse until well chopped, but not pureed. Heat a splash of canola oil in a large skillet, then add the squash and an equal amount of chopped corned beef. Saute until the squash is browned and tender. Serve topped with poached or fried eggs.

— Grilled: Slice the squash into 1/2-inch-thick slabs. Drizzle each slab with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat until tender when pierced with a fork. If the squash browns too quickly, turn one side of the grill off and leave the other side on medium-high. Move the squash slices to the cooler side and continue cooking, with the grill covered, until tender.

— Soup: Bring to a simmer 2 cups chicken broth, a 13 1/2-ounce can of coconut milk, 3 cloves garlic and 3 cups cubed squash. Cook until very tender. Working in batches, transfer the mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt, a squeeze of lemon juice and a splash of hot sauce. Stir in cooked shredded chicken or cooked shrimp, if desired. Top with shredded fresh basil.

— Ganache: Boil 1 cup squash cubes in water until tender. Drain, then add to the food processor and puree until very smooth. Set aside. In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup heavy cream with 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon ground dry ginger. When just hot, remove from the heat and stir in 12-ounce bag semisweet chocolate bits. Stir in the squash puree until completely smooth. Serve warm over ice cream or toasted pound cake or gingerbread.

— Biscuits: Boil 1 cup squash cubes in water until tender. Drain and mash with a fork; you should have 1/2 cup of mashed squash. Cool and stir together with 2/3 cup buttermilk. Freeze 6 tablespoons butter until it's very cold but not rock solid. Grate the butter with a cheese grater into a bowl with 2 cups self-rising flour. Stir together with a fork. Add the squash and stir just until it comes together. Scoop 1/4 cup at a time onto an oiled baking sheet and bake at 425 F for 10 to 12 minutes.

— Roasted: Toss squash cubes in a bowl with melted butter, salt, pepper, and Italian or Cajun seasoning. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and roast at 425 F until tender and browned, stirring occasionally.

— Crab cakes: Drain a 16-ounce can lump crabmeat. Stir in 1 cup finely grated butternut squash, 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives, 2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning, 1 egg and 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs. Form into 8 patties and cook in a skillet with vegetable oil until browned and cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes per side at medium-high.