Try this Winter Fruit for Great Taste & Good Health

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By Sara Shipley, RD-to-be and student at the University of Central Oklahoma

Looking for a reason to try butternut squash? I have plenty! This winter fruit, (yes it is technically a fruit because it has seeds) is packed with healthful benefits to round out any meal. Just a single cup provides an ample dose of vitamins A, B1, B3, B6, C, calcium, potassium, and fiber! The butternut squash has an inedible pale-yellow skin with a sweet, somewhat nutty flavored, deep orange flesh. The seeds must be removed prior to cooking, however they can be eaten as a snack after roasting.

Beyond the delicious taste, butternut squash is chock full of wholesome vitamins and minerals that you need in your daily diet.

THE BOON OF BUTTERNUT SQUASH:

VITAMINS: The primary source of vitamin A is from beta-carotene,     with more than 300% of the daily-recommended value in a single cup. It is also a great source for Vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant and enzymatic cofactor in our bodies, both necessary to  regulate healthy function. Moreover, this squash provides a source of    approximately 10% each of multiple B vitamins, including B1-Thiamin,   B3- Niacin and B6.

MINERALS: We’ve heard they’re important, but how can you keep up with getting the right amount? Rather than taking a supplement, try incorporating just a single cup for a good source of calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Calcium contributes to strong bones and muscle function and potassium is an integral player in the fluid balance within our bodies. Without magnesium, many enzymatic processes required for normal function cannot proceed. These minerals are vital to a healthy diet.

FIBER: Ah, the digestive health rock star. Fiber keeps your body regular and it is involved in lowering cholesterol and maintaining blood sugar levels. That makes it heart healthy and a preventative measure towards pre-diabetes. Eat just a single cup of this squash and you will add at least 2 grams to your daily fiber goal, which should be approximately 15-20 grams.

There are also many other heart healthy attributes to this squash. Low in fat, there are only 80 calories in a cup (205g), primarily which come from complex carbohydrates. There is no cholesterol and less than 8 mg of sodium! Because this squash is naturally sweet, you don’t need to add much to enjoy the simple taste.

Steaming the squash for 7-8 minutes makes it so easy to enjoy and a quick addition to many basic dishes.  I have been cooking with butternut squash a lot lately and have found two recipes that I love, are easy to make and quite affordable.

Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Tart: There is nothing fancy about this ‘tart’ and this recipe calls for only 6-7 ingredients. Don’t be detoured from the process of caramelizing the onions, because they pair so well with the squash and your family or guests will be asking for seconds (or the recipe).

Ingredients:

1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, separated

4 ounces goat cheese, slightly chilled

1.5 cups of cooked, 1-in. cubed butternut squash

3 large onions, thinly sliced

Thyme sprigs (fresh is best, dried works fine)

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparations:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

With the thawed puff pastry, use a rolling pin to roll it out to approximately 10 by 16 inches. Carefully slice off half an inch from all sides of the rectangle, keeping the scraps as long strips. Transfer the pastry to the parchment paper. Wet your fingertips and the edge of the pastry. Reapply the scraps to their respective sides, creating a border. With a fork, pierce the inside part of the pastry, so when the puffing occurs in the oven, the unpierced border will rise around the inside and the middle will remain. Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes until golden. Set aside and turn the oven down to 375 Fahrenheit.

While the pastry is baking, heat a large skillet on medium heat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the onions, a pinch of salt and pepper and several thyme sprigs. Place a lid on the skillet and stir often to prevent burning. Once they begin to soften and brown, keep the lid on for another 15 minutes and continue stirring.  Take the lid off as they begin to caramelize and turn heat to low. They will take another 15-20 minutes to caramelize entirely, but believe me it is worth every minute. When complete, turn off the heat and remove the thyme sprigs, as they will have done their job by imparting their flavors during that process.

After peeling and cubing the butternut squash into 1-inch cubes, steam the squash for 5-6 minutes. This will not entirely cook the squash, but it will be in the oven again so we do not want to initially overcook it.

Once the tart has been removed from the oven and the onions are caramelized, you can begin to assemble. With a large spoon, spread the onions over the entire pastry inside, as though it were a sauce on a pizza. Next, add the butternut squash and finally, crumble the goat cheese (it is easiest when chilled) in your hand and sprinkle generously over the onions and squash. You may want to brush a small amount of olive oil over the border, to add extra sheen to the pastry before baking again. Place back into the oven for 5-7 minutes, until reheated through. Take out and cut into 8 pieces. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash Risotto: I made this for a birthday dinner a few weeks ago and it was a huge hit. Besides the creaminess of risotto that everyone loves, the squash imparts a pretty orange color and adds to the rib-sticking goodness of this dish. With Parmesan cheese, this is a savory side of butternut squash I think anyone will enjoy. (Recipe adapted from Foodnetwork.com, Rachel Ray)

Ingredients:

  •  1 qt chicken stock
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1 cup dry, white wine
  • 2 cups cooked butternut squash
  • 1 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 7-8 sage leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preparation:

Bring the 1-quart stock and 1 cup water to a simmer in a saucepot then reduce heat to low.

Heat a medium skillet with the olive oil over medium to heat. When oil becomes hot, add the onions and garlic. Cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add rice and toast 3 minutes more. Add the wine, stirring occasionally until completely evaporated.

The risotto should take 18 minutes to fully cook so, patiently ladle the stock into the rice in intervals, allowing the liquid to evaporate each time. After approximately 15 minutes, stir the cooked squash into the rice. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper and in the last minute of cooking time, add the butter in small pieces, sage and cheese.  Enjoy!