Winter Squash & Pumpkins – Super Foods with Great Possibilities!

When fall weather arrives, grocery stores, roadside stands, and farmers markets have an assortment of hard (winter) squash and pumpkins that are hard to miss.  Pumpkins certainly revive our desire for the holiday pumpkin pie, but there is so much more that can be done with pumpkins, and the endless varieties of winter squash.

One of the wonderful assets of the winter squash is that it stores well and can be kept on hand for a much longer period of time compared to other vegetables. If winter squash is uncut, you can keep it stored in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated location for 30-180 days. An unheated enclosed porch, cool pantry or dry cellar are good storage areas (not the refrigerator) for your squash.

Cooked, pureed squash can be frozen for 3- 6 months.This gives you the opportunity to buy squash early in the season when it’s economical and readily available, then store enough to take you through the winter and into early spring.

Looking to include more “super-foods” in your life? Squash and pumpkins definitely qualify.  They are all quite high in fiber, and contain generous amounts of the antioxidant “carotene”. The antioxidant activity of carotene helps reduce the risk of many types of cancer. In addition, carotene benefits the immune system and eye health. Winter squash is a good source of vitamin C, as well as folic acid, potassium and magnesium. Depending on the type of squash you use, 1 cup will provide roughly 80-115 calories and anywhere from 3-10 grams of fiber.

Select winter squash that is free of any cracks or soft spots on the skin.The skins of winter squash can be quite tough, so you will likely need a heavy duty chef knife or cleaver to cut it open. The best ways to cook squash are baking, steaming or microwaving.

I prefer the baked method, because baking seems to improve the flavor of the squash. As the squash cooks and browns, there is a bit of caramelization that takes place to give the squash a sweeter flavor.  To bake a squash, simply cut in half, remove the seeds and bake the halves flesh-side down on a baking sheet or stone that has been lightly coated with vegetable oil or cooking spray.

Bake at 375-400 degrees until tender (usually about 45 minutes).

When the baked squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh to use right away or store in the freezer.  If you have cooked a rather large squash, you can puree it and freeze pre-measured portions for later use. Besides using as a cooked vegetable, squash can work its way into many other recipes for soups, stews, breads, and rice or pasta dishes.There are endless possibilities, and the more you work with squash, you will see just how versatile this vegetable is.

I have included a favorite squash recipe of mine using bulgur wheat and winter squash, which is a hearty, tasty and nutritious addition to any dinner meal.  Why not give it a try, and check out the other recipe collections below for more ideas.

Squash and Bulgur Pilaf – serves 6

1 Tb. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 cups winter squash cut into 1″ pieces
1 cup bulgur wheat
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup currants
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

1. Saute onions, garlic, squash and bulgur wheat in olive oil in a large nonstick skillet until onions are tender.

2. Stir in broth and cinnamon, heat to boiling.  Reduce heat and simmer covered for 15 minutes.

3. Stir in currants and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes.  Add chopped walnuts before serving.

Per Serving: 160 Cal (31% from Fat, 12% from Protein, 57% from Carb); 5 g Protein; 6 g Tot Fat; 1 g Sat Fat; 2 g Mono Fat; 24 g Carb; 5 g Fiber; 2 g Sugar; 39 mg Calcium; 1 mg Iron; 191 mg Sodium; 358 mg Potassium; 0 mg Cholesterol;  Exchanges = 1 Starch – 2 Fat

More squash recipes:

http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes_menus/collections/healthy_squash_recipes

http://www.healthy-recipes-for-kids.com/spaghetti-squash-recipes.html

© 2010, Gretchen Scalpi, RD, CDE.  Publication rights granted to all venues so long as article and by-line are reprinted intact and all links are made live.

Gretchen is an author, consultant, speaker and Registered Dietitian & Certified Diabetes Educator.  She is also a Certified LEAP Therapist (Lifestyle Eating and Performance), specializing in the clinical management of food sensitivities and related conditions.  She opened her private nutrition practice in 2002 and has expanded to two office locations in New Windsor and Beacon, NY.  Gretchen’s practice provides individual nutritional counseling in the areas of diabetes, weight management, food sensitivities, gastrointestinal disorders, and general wellness. To work with Gretchen Scalpi please visit http://www.nutritionxpert.com.

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