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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Roasted Butternut Squash

During cold and flu season, my patients often ask me what they can eat to support their immune system. Orange foods like butternut squash are on the top of my list because they are good sources of vitamin A and beta-carotene, nutrients that can strengthen the immune system and protect against viral infections. Pregnant women should be careful about taking vitamin A in supplement form but should not worry about getting too much from foods.

Whenever I eat a winter squash or pumpkin, I always save the seeds. Full of nutrients and essential fatty acids, roasted pumpkin and squash seeds are some of my favorite snacks. They can be seasoned with all sorts of spices, but I enjoy these seeds simply dressed. A bit of olive oil and a dash of sea salt is all they need.

Besides being a great snack, these simple seeds also make tasty and decorative garnishes. Use them to finish soups, salads and brown rice risottos. 

- Whole butternut squash, peeled
- Extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil, first cold pressing
- Sea salt
- Ground peppercorn

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Peel the squash with a Y-shaped (or regular) vegetable peeler. Cut it in half, or in pieces if it is large, exposing the interior cavity. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and set them aside. Dice the squash into 1-centimeter cubes and transfer them to a baking pan or baking sheet.

Drizzle the squash cubes with enough olive oil to coat, then toss and arrange them in a single layer. Season with sea salt and ground peppercorn. Bake until the cubes are golden brown and the edges start to crisp, 45 minutes or more, stirring every 15 minutes. As soon as they are cool enough, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

While the squash is roasting, rinse the seeds and remove any stringy material. Drain well and transfer to a baking pan or baking sheet. Drizzle with just enough olive oil to coat, then toss and arrange the seeds in a single layer. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake, alongside the squash, until golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes, or until they begin to pop.

Serve the sweet and salty butternut squash cubes alone, as a savory side dish, or incorporate them into other dishes.

1. Butternut Squash Risotto: with butternut squash cubes, sliced leeks, rosemary and crumbled blue cheese (or grated aged Parmesan cheese or crumbled goat cheese)

2. Autumn Spinach Salad: fresh spinach leaves tossed with butternut squash cubes, roasted squash seeds, dried cranberries and red wine vinaigrette

3. Add the squash cubes to a black bean or beef burrito, with fresh tomato and cilantro

4. Use the squash cubes as a filling for nori rolls or summer rolls, along with strips of red bell pepper and tempeh (sauteed in extra virgin olive oil and drizzled with tamari)

5. Use the squash cubes to garnish a bowl of soup: black bean chili, tomato soup, potato leek soup, etc.

6. Add the squash cubes to a bowl of steel cut oatmeal for breakfast, with a sprinkle of cinnamon

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