Native Americans once believed squash was so nutritious that "they buried it along with the dead to provide them nourishment on their final journey." Squash was originally grown for the seeds because they were believed to increase fertility; thus were commonly planted near homes.
The butternut squash is a Native American gourd, which wasn't commonly eaten until the 19th century, but is now "the most widely grown winter squash." Planted during the summer months they are in full season during October and November, although they can be eaten year round. No offense to zucchini, but the health benefits of fall-harvest squashes far outshines their cousins.
Low in fat, butternut squash delivers a mega dose of dietary fiber, making it an exceptionally heart-friendly choice. It provides significant amounts of potassium, important for bone health, and vitamin B6, essential for the proper functioning of both the nervous and immune systems. The folate content adds another boost to its heart-healthy reputation and helps guard against brain and spinal-cord-related birth defects such as spina bifida.
Squash's tangerine hue, however, indicates butternut's most noteworthy health perk. The color signals an abundance of powerhouse nutrients known as carotenoids, shown to protect against heart disease. In particular, the gourd boasts very high levels of beta-carotene (which your body automatically converts to vitamin A), identified as a deterrent against breast cancer, as well as a supporter of healthy lung development in fetuses and newborns.
Vitamin A, in the form of retinol is essential for healthy eyes. Retinol binds to the protein opsin to form the visual pigment rhodopsin, which permits night vision by allowing rod cells to detect small amounts of light. A retinol deficiency leads to night blindness. Raw butternut squash provides about 150 percent of the daily value for vitamin A in every 1 cup serving. What's more, in that same serving, you get nearly half the recommended daily dose of antioxidant-rich vitamin C. All this for a mere 65 calories!
I must confess that butternut squash is my favorite vegetable, second only to brussel sprouts (don’t look so shocked) or summer tomatoes. I eat it as often as possible. It can be somewhat difficult to prepare because of its thick skin but in the words of R. Ransom, “Before the reward there must be labor”, so grab a knife and start peeling your way to the reward. I promise it’ll be well worth it.
Tip: To peel and cut butternut squash, first peel the squash using a vegetable peeler or small knife. Cut across the squash to separate the neck from the base. Cut the base in half and scoop out the seeds; next cut the neck in half lengthwise, and proceed with cutting into dice or chunks.
Pasta With Onion, Greens and Butternut Squash
- 1 medium to large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (4 cups cubed)
- ¼ cup olive oil, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt, divided
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 2 cups chopped onion
- 8 ounces wheat pasta, I prefer penne (you may substitute whole wheat/grain pasta for more fiber)
- 1 pound swiss chard, trimmed and shredded (about 12 cups shredded)
- 2 (15-ounce) cans low-sodium white beans, drained and rinsed
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional
- Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
- Toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil, ½ teaspoon of the salt and cumin.
- Place in single layer on baking sheet and roast until squash is fork-tender, about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large, nonstick skillet over medium high. Add onion and ¼ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is very soft and browned, 15 to 17 minutes.
- Cook pasta in lightly salted boiling water according to package directions. Three to 4 minutes before it is finished cooking, add the chard to the pot. Just before draining, add the beans.
- Toss pasta with the lemon juice, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Toss with the squash, caramelized onions and optional Parmesan.
Makes 6 servings.