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Winter squash wonderland

By Rachel Ernzen, For The Baltimore Sun

5:18 PM EST, December 30, 2013

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Nutritionists from the University of Maryland Medical System regularly contribute a guest post. The latest post is from Rachel Ernzen.

This time of year, consider featuring local winter squash. Winter squash packs a nutritional punch and its varieties are rich in fiber, vitamin A and potassium. There are many markets and grocery stores that offer produce grown within the state or from neighboring states.

Here's a sampling of fun facts, tidbits and some suggestions for serving winter squash (generalizations of recipes I have at home or have made up) to try on your own food journey.

Butternut squash

Beige in color, butternut squash is shaped like a vase or bell. The sweet, creamy flavors of butternut squash make delicious soups, souffle or bread pudding. Try this: Combine one peeled and diced butternut squash (11/4 pounds) with a peeled, cored and diced apple (such as Fuji), two chopped shallots, two cups of low-sodium, fat-free vegetable broth, 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano and a pinch of cayenne pepper in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat for 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before pureeing in small batches, then returning to the pan. Add some orange juice concentrate and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Season with black pepper and enjoy (serves four).

Delicata squash

Delicata can also be called peanut or Bohemia squash. A ripe delicata will be yellow with green stripes on its rind. Delicata squash hold their shape well when cooked, making them a good choice for stuffing with whole grains or low-fat cheeses. Try cutting a delicata in half, scooping out the seeds, and chopping into half-inch segments (moon-shaped pieces). These segments can be roasted with olive oil and a little salt at 425 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes and served as a side. Roasted delicata rings can also be stacked into circles and stuffed with cooked quinoa or farro mixed with pesto or pine nuts, roasted bell pepper and low-fat feta cheese.

Spaghetti squash

When cooked, the flesh of spaghetti squash separates into strands that resemble pasta, yet it is naturally gluten-free. The gourd can be cooked whole by poking several holes around the surface or sliced in half lengthwise. If cutting before cooking, scrape away the seeds and stringy bits using a spoon until the inside is clean. If cooking whole, slice the squash in half and remove the seeds and stringy bits once cooked. Try baking squash halves at 375 degrees for one hour or whole in the microwave for 10 to 12 minutes (rotate every few minutes and remember to puncture before cooking). Dress cooked spaghetti squash simply with a tablespoon of olive oil or butter and two tablespoons Parmesan cheese or brown sugar and cinnamon sprinkles for a kid-friendly savory or sweet treat.