Try some squash this fall
Autumn makes me think about soup and other warm, comfort foods. I like to get cozy with a bowl of soup and some hearty bread. Add some fuzzy slippers to my feet and a fire in the fireplace, and I’m set for winter.
I didn’t grow up eating squash soup (this week’s recipe), but we enjoyed baked squash with a little butter. In fact, we had “oven meals” in the fall, with menus such as baked squash, baked potatoes and meat loaf. We often had baked apples to round out our oven meals.
That was good use of a hot oven, right? I think I have an upcoming menu for my family.
Members of the winter squash family include butternut, buttercup, acorn and hubbard squash, and sugar pumpkins.
Yes, you read it correctly: A pumpkin actually is a type of squash. Use that as a conversation starter at Thanksgiving, if you’d like.
The “Cucurbitaceae” family, to which squash belongs, includes hundreds of members. Cucumbers, watermelon and inedible gourds also are “cousins” of the squash.
Squash has a long history in the Americas, and it was grown by Native Americans for 5,000 years. Squash often was served with corn, beans and game meats for a complete, balanced diet.
Winter squash is among the most nutritious of vegetables. Summer squash, such as zucchini, is not nearly as nutrient-rich as winter squash.
You would be correct in calling a squash a “fruit.” Technically, with its bountiful seeds, a squash is the “fruit of the plant.” We in nutrition think of squash as a vegetable because of the way it is used on the menu.
Do a favor for your body by enjoying some squash. Dark orange vegetables, along with dark green ones, are among those most likely to be lacking in our diets.
Squash is an excellent source of vitamins A and C. Our bodies convert the beta carotene (orange pigment) in squash and other dark orange vegetables to vitamin A. We need vitamin A for healthy eyes and skin.
Our bodies use vitamin C to heal wounds, repair our cartilage and bones, and help us absorb iron. Squash also provides fiber, folate (a B vitamin) and a variety of other vitamins and minerals.
When storing winter squash, be sure not to wash them before storage. Adding water hastens spoilage, so store whole squash in a cool, dry place and they will last several months. If you purchase cut squash in the refrigerated section of a grocery store, be sure to use it within a week.
Squash is easy to prepare. You can bake it whole or halved. You also can cook it in water or broth, steam it or prepare it in a microwave oven.
To bake, simply rinse the squash well with water and scrub with a veggie brush if needed. Then pierce with a sharp knife. Bake at 350 F for about 45 minutes for a small squash or 90 minutes for a large squash. Remove the skin and seeds and season as desired.
Alternately, rinse the squash, cut in half and scoop out the seeds. Place in a pan and bake uncovered at 350 F. You also can bake the squash in a microwave oven for about seven minutes (or according to the oven manufacturer’s directions).
Cooked, mashed squash can be preserved by freezing but not by canning. Chunks of cooked squash can be preserved by pressure canning. Visit https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food and follow the directions for safe food preservation.
Here’s a fiber-rich, hearty soup to chase away the autumn chill. By using reduced-sodium and reduced-fat ingredients, you can lower the amount of sodium and calories in the dish. A serving of this soup provides 300 percent of the vitamin A (as beta carotene), 50 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C and 35 percent of the daily recommendation for calcium.
Creamy Squash Soup
4 Tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 c.)
3 c. chicken broth or vegetable broth (low-sodium)
6 c. butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1/2 tsp. pepper (to taste)
1/2 tsp. tarragon (optional)
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
2 (8-ounce) packages fat-free cream cheese, cubed
Saute butter and onions in a large pot, cooking until the onions are soft. Add chicken broth, squash and desired spices; cover and cook until the squash is tender (15 to 20 minutes). Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until smooth. Alternatively, add the squash mixture in batches to a food processor or blender and puree the mixture until smooth. Return to pot and add cream cheese, stirring until the mixture is evenly mixed and warm. (If you prefer a thinner soup, add additional chicken broth.)
Makes eight servings. Each serving has 240 calories, 9 grams (g) fat, 16 g protein, 25 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber and 630 milligrams sodium.