We are in the thick of autumn, and pumpkin patches are crowded with families choosing all shapes and sizes of pumpkins and gourds to take home for decoration and cooking. This week we wanted to feature one of our favorite members of the squash family: butternut squash. This squash is simply packed with all kinds of good stuff! Just 1 cup cooked is an excellent source of vitamin A (the orange flesh is a dead giveaway for beta carotene, the pre-cursor to vitamin A) and vitamin C to help keep your immune system running strong. It’s also a good source of heart protective vitamin E, the vitamin B, and the power minerals magnesium, potassium, and manganese. The best part of all? Its sweet flavor and creamy texture make butternut squash naturally kid-friendly.
Like other squashes, butternuts grow on a vine close to the ground, which is why they’re often caked in dirt when you buy them fresh at the farmers’ market. Butternut squash is easily identifiable by its shape and color. It is long, narrow, and pear-shaped, with a light yellow-beige skin. The flesh is bright orange, and the seeds are housed in the hollow bulge of the squash (the bottom of the “pear”). Be a seed saver! Scoop the seeds out and clean them of all the flesh, then spread them out on a baking tray so they don’t stick together and place in a dry, dark place until they become dry and brittle (1-2 weeks). Then, place the seeds in a container with a lid and mark what they are and the date. Plant them in late spring 2013.
Butternut squash is technically a fruit, but in cooking it is typically treated more like a vegetable. It is very popular in soups, since its creamy nature lends itself to really nice, thick purées. Butternut goes very well with apples, and kids love the sweetness of that combination. It’s almost like dessert! Aside from soups, butternut squash is delicious when simply roasted until the edges brown and caramelize. To roast squash, simply toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper (add turmeric for flavor and health), place in a roasting pan in the oven at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes making sure to turn them every 15 minutes so they don’t burn. It’s a great addition to grain salads and Thanksgiving stuffing! Also be sure to check out our new recipe below for butternut squash and polenta. It’s some seriously delicious and healthy comfort food!
Many people are nervous about peeling and chopping a big, funny-shaped squash like this one. It definitely takes practice but is easier than it looks. All you need is a sharp chef’s knife and a vegetable peeler! The editors of Food52 put together a super helpful video to give you a visual of their knife + peeler method. However, because of its increased popularity, many supermarkets are actually selling butternut squash pre-cubed in packages, so be on the lookout in the produce sections of most markets.
Butternut Squash Polenta
This Butternut Squash Polenta recipe makes a creamy, colorful side dish as part of any nutritious meal. Butternut squash is abundantly available during the fall season (even though it’s often called winter squash). Your family will definitely give you the thumbs up for this healthy dish, which is an excellent source of immune boosting vitamin A, and a good source of calcium, and iron. With 5 grams of protein per serving, don’t count this one out for a great main dish, too; especially for vegetarians.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 package cooked winter squash puree, frozen (12 ounces)*
3 ½ cups water
1 cup low-fat (1%) milk
¼ cup instant nonfat dry milk powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¾ cup polenta or cornmeal
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add frozen squash puree and cook until squash is defrosted and mixture is smooth about 5-6 minutes. Remove squash mixture from heat and set aside.
2. In a separate medium saucepan, bring water, milk, milk powder, salt, and pepper to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and slowly whisk in polenta until smooth. Cook on low heat 5 minutes or until thickened, stirring frequently.
3. Add squash mixture to polenta and cook over low heat for about 3 minutes to blend flavors. Remove from heat, stir in Parmesan cheese and serve.
Makes 8 servings (1/2 cup per serving).
Nutrition Facts per serving: 140 calories; 5g fat (1g sat fat, 3g mono, 1g poly, 0g trans fat); 5mg cholesterol; 20g carbohydrate (2g fiber, 4g sugar); 5g protein; 160mg sodium; 45% Daily Value (DV) vitamin A; 6% DV vitamin C; 10% DV calcium; 10% DV iron.
*To puree fresh butternut squash:
1 butternut squash (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled and diced
2-4 tablespoons water, optional
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread squash out on baking sheet and roast for 25-30 minutes until fork tender, turning over halfway through. Allow to cool slightly.
- Transfer squash to food processor and puree until smooth. Add water if necessary.