By the time my daughter, Leila, was 10 years old we had narrowed her dreaded foods to five. They were eggplant and four kinds of squash. Butternut was not among them.

To my little food critic, butternut meant sweet and spicy mousse, a pretty bright orange puree. It was a nice slice of something that I steamed for her and topped with a piece of cheddar cheese that melted over it like yellow satin. She didn't know it was squash.

While butternut is familiar in a variety of delicious soups, stews, risottos and gratins, it rarely appears at the table in its own skin.

The butternut's distinctive tan rind and its shape that resembles a bowling pin make it easy to identify in the market. Pick one that is heavy and unblemished. Size is not a major factor in selection, but the larger ones have been on the vine longer and are likely to be more flavorful.

Squash all belong to the most American botanical family of Cucurbita and generally fall into the subcategories of Curcurbita pepo, maxima or moschata. However, to most cooks they are classified as either summer or winter squash, meaning that their skins are soft or hard. Those with tough skins and good holding power are the winter varieties.

I use butternut for general cooking because it has a smooth skin and a small seed cavity, which is located at one end of the vegetable. This means that it is easier to peel, slice and dice than most of its Curcubita cousins with their more irregular exteriors and more abundant hairy stuff inside, which must be scraped away.

However, the winter varieties, with the exception of the spaghetti squash, can be used interchangeably in most recipes. Try acorn, buttercup, Hubbard, the beautiful Red Kuri orthe stunningly colored turban for variety. Butternut takes well to the seasonings that we associate with the fall months and holidays, such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and brown sugar. It also makes a good cooking partner with crisp fall apples and pears.

Peeled and cubed butternut can be boiled or steamed to a tender consistency in about 15 minutes. Try it buttered and seasoned as an accompaniment to roast pork. It is excellent mashed, alone or combined with white or sweet potatoes, rutabagas or parsnips. Cook it alongside meatloaf. Steam neat round slices from the seedless end of the squash, or trim the rounds into pumpkin shapes for your young Halloween enthusiasts.

Butternut squash will keep for two or three months without refrigeration in a dry, cool place, perhaps as a doorstop. So you can have on hand a good supply of vitamin A and potassium, a fair amount of niacin, iron and protein with as few as 90 calories to the hefty cup. Furthermore, you can snack on their roasted seeds. What more can one ask of a vegetable?

Squash Timbales With Prosciutto and Figs

(4 servings)

This dish is a delicious combination of flavors and textures. Serve the timbales as a first course at a formal dinner party or as part of a holiday buffet. They are best when served warm, but they can be made ahead of time and refrigerated. Be sure to bring them back to room temperature before serving.

Butter for the baking dish

2 large eggs

2/3 cup half-and-half

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 cup cooked, mashed butternut squash*

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

8 fresh figs, peeled and halved (dried figs that have soaked in warm water to plump may be substituted)

4 thin slices prosciutto, julienned

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter four 4-ounce timbales or custard cups. Have ready a baking dish large enough to hold the timbales or custard cups without crowding.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the half-and-half and brown sugar and mix well. Stir in the squash, salt, cayenne pepper and nutmeg. Pour the mixture into the prepared timbales or custard cups and transfer them to the baking dish. Pour hot water into the baking dish until the water reaches about halfway up the outside of the timbales or custard cups.

Bake in the preheated oven until the custard is firm throughout, 30 to 40 minutes. Carefully remove the individual dishes from the larger baking dish and transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 10 minutes.

To serve, run a table knife around the inside of each timbale to loosen the contents. Invert each timbale onto an individual serving plate and top with the figs. Scatter the strips of prosciutto around each timbale.

* Note: To prepare, cut the ends from the squash and peel. Cut the squash in half, scrape out and discard the seeds and cut into 1-inch chunks. Boil or steam until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and mash until smooth.

Per serving: 251 calories, 13 gm protein, 31 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, 138 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 761 mg sodium, 5 gm dietary fiber

Lamb Stew With Butternut Squash and Mint

(4 servings)

This recipe requires little time or effort and can be doubled or tripled for a hungry crowd. Serve it over rice or couscous, add a green salad and some warm flat bread and you've got it made.

If you do not have a casserole dish that can withstand direct heat on top of the stove, place the stew directly into an oven preheated to 375 degrees, immediately reduce the temperature to 325 degrees and cook as directed.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 pounds lamb stew meat, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch cubes

1 large onion, thickly sliced

2 teaspoons crushed, minced garlic

2 tablespoons tomato paste or ketchup

1 1/2 cups water

1 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-by- 3/4-inch cubes (about 2 cups)

1 tablespoon minced fresh mint

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a large ovenproof skillet or casserole with a lid over medium heat, stir together the oil, cayenne pepper, curry powder and salt. Cook until the spices are fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the lamb, onion, garlic and tomato paste and stir to combine. Add the water and bring the mixture to a boil.

Cover the dish with a lid or aluminum foil and transfer to the preheated oven. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove the casserole from the oven and add the squash. Bake, covered, for 20 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl mix together the mint, lemon juice and water. Take the dish from the oven and drizzle the mint mixture over the top of the stew. Return the dish to the oven and bake, covered, until the squash is tender but still holds its shape, 5 to 10 minutes more.

Per serving: 313 calories, 36 gm protein, 18 gm carbohydrates, 11 gm fat, 108 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 720 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Sausage and Butternut Muffins

(12 muffins)

Make these light, moist muffins for a Sunday breakfast or brunch and then watch them disappear. And it's just as well, because they should be served as soon as they come out of the oven. If you cook the squash and assemble the dry ingredients the night before the early morning preparation will be a piece of cake.

1/4 pound sausage (you may use sweet or hot, pork or turkey sausage), casings removed

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 cup cooked, mashed butternut squash*

3/4 cup milk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus additional for the pan

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a regular-size 12-cup muffin pan.

Crumble the sausage into a heavy skillet and brown over medium heat, stirring with a spoon to break up the pieces, until the sausage is just cooked through. Set the sausage aside to drain on paper towels.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Add the maple syrup, egg, squash, milk, melted butter and sausage and mix until combined. The batter will not be smooth.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups and bake in the preheated oven until the muffins are lightly browned and dry to the touch, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

* Note: To prepare, cut the ends from the squash and peel. Cut the squash in half, scrape out and discard the seeds and cut into 1-inch chunks. Boil or steam until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and mash until smooth.

Per muffin: 168 calories, 4 gm protein, 18 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, 37 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 265 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Butternut Chiffon Pie With Pecan Crust

(8 servings)

The filling for this pie is on the light side, which balances the density of the nutty crust. If you're pulling out all the stops, top it with a dollop of heavy cream whipped with a bit of rum.

1/2 cup sugar

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 eggs,* separated

1 cup heavy (whipping) cream

1 cup cooked, mashed butternut squash**

Pecan Pie Crust (recipe follows)

In a saucepan, stir together the sugar, gelatin, salt, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Beat the egg yolks slightly and pour them into the sugar mixture, combining well. Stir in 1/2 cup of the heavy cream and then cook the mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, until it is slightly thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Add the cooked squash and stir to combine. Remove the pan from the heat; set aside to cool.

While the squash mixture cools, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat the remaining 1/2 cup heavy cream until it forms firm peaks. Set aside.

Fold the beaten egg whites into the squash mixture. Then fold in the whipped cream. Spoon the filling mixture into the Pecan Pie Crust and refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours.

* Note: Uncooked eggs may be contaminated with salmonella and should be avoided by young children, the elderly and anyone with immune system deficiencies.

** Note: To prepare, cut the ends from the squash and peel. Cut the squash in half, scrape out and discard the seeds and cut into 1-inch chunks. Boil or steam until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and mash until smooth.

Per serving: 460 calories, 5 gm protein, 30 gm carbohydrates, 38 gm fat, 111 mg cholesterol, 13 gm saturated fat, 180 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Pecan Pie Crust

(Makes one 9-inch crust)

1 1/2 cups finely chopped (not ground) pecans (about 8 ounces)

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Using a 9-inch pie pan, stir the chopped pecans together with the brown sugar and the melted butter, combining the ingredients thoroughly.

Press the mixture evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan.

Bake the crust for 10 minutes. If the nut mixture slides down the sides of the pan while cooking, use the bottom of a large spoon to smooth it back into place. As the pie crust cools, it will harden and maintain its shape.

Per serving: 277 calories, 2 gm protein, 14 gm carbohydrates, 25 gm fat, 16 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 4 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Jane Adams Finn is a legal consultant and an avid cook living in Chevy Chase.

Butternut Squash Tips

Butternut squash isn't a very demanding vegetable. On the contrary, it can be cooked in a variety of ways: roasted, steamed, boiled, sauteed or, in an emergency, microwaved. Just trim and discard the ends first, then stand the squash on a cutting board. Take a large chef's knife, cut the squash in half lengthwise and discard the seeds and stringy stuff attached to the seeds. Then cut as specified in the recipe.

If a recipe calls for mashed cooked squash, you don't have to peel it first. Simply roast, boil or steam it, drain it and then scrape the flesh from the peel prior to mashing. Keep in mind that 8 ounces of raw squash yields about 1 cup mashed cooked squash. And remember: Not only is it much easier to cut a smaller squash, but it will roast in less time. Any leftover cooked squash can be reheated, seasoned and served as a side dish, or it may be frozen for up to 2 weeks.

* To roast: Transfer the squash, cut-side down, to a buttered or oiled baking sheet. Roast at 375 to 400 degrees until the skin is brown and the flesh is tender, 40 to 45 minutes. If using in another recipe, cut the squash from the peel and mash until smooth.

* To boil or steam: Peel, seed and cut the squash into 1-inch cubes. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, boil or steam the squash until soft, about 15 minutes. Drain the squash and mash until smooth.

* To saute: Peel, seed and cut the squash into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Heat olive oil or butter in a skillet over medium-high heat, add the squash and cook, without turning, until golden, about 10 minutes. Turn and repeat with the second side. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

* To microwave: Place the squash halves in a baking dish and add warm water to a depth of about 1/4 inch. Cover and microwave on full power for 12 minutes. Let the squash remain in the microwave, still covered, for 15 minutes.