Winter Squash – Affordable, Healthy, and Delicious

Speaking of squash, here’s a little more information about this nutritious vegetable, from the nutrition students at Acadia University.

With growing interest in local foods, many of us have certainly wondered what are some of the most common fresh vegetables grown in Nova Scotia. Whether you are shopping at a local farmers’ market or at a bigger grocery chain, you have surely come across one of the most affordable products that is widely produced in the Annapolis Valley and across the province: the squash. While it may be intimidating for first time users, it is easy-to-prepare, and nutritionally exceptional. Truthfully, there are few other options than squash when it comes to choosing a product that is cheap, delicious, and healthy.

Squash come in many different varieties, each having its own colour, shape, taste and size.  Farmers usually wait for their land to warm up before planting seeds and they harvest squash later in September. Products are often cured in the sun to dry the outer skin and then placed in barns for storage. Because squash is commonly sold throughout the fall and the winter, local farmers often wrap it in blankets to prevent damage from extreme cold conditions.

When you purchase squash make sure to choose those that are firm and heavy for their size, have bright and glossy exteriors, and are free of nicks, bruises or soft spots. With proper storage, winter squash can be kept up to three to six months. Squash does not need refrigeration, and a shelf in a cool, dark basement is often the best place to store it. To avoid early spoilage, do not cut or wash any squash that you wish to keep for long periods of time, as the extra moisture can promote spoilage.

Whether you are buying a butternut or a buttercup squash, most winter varieties they possess a vibrant orange colour, a creamy texture, and a sweet flavour. For this reason squash can be easily incorporated in a number of recipes, including desserts. It can be used for salads, soups, casseroles, pies, or even served as a stand-alone item. It pairs well with herbs like sage, rosemary, nutmeg, and cinnamon, as well as with nuts and fruits like pecans, walnuts, apples, pears, and cranberries which enhance its naturally sweet taste. It can be baked, steamed, grilled, puréed, microwaved, boiled or fried. Cooking deepens the squash’s natural orange colour while creating a soft and velvety texture. It also gradually transforms its raw bland starchy-like taste to a rich caramel-like flavour.

Depending on the recipe, peeling may not be necessary. Simply cut your squash in half, scoop out the seeds, lightly coat the inside with olive oil and bake it for about 40 minutes in the oven at 350˚F. Keep the seeds, as they can be cleaned and roasted in the oven and used for snacks or added to soups or baked goods like breads and muffins.

Squash is an extremely good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. It is also low in energy and fats, so you do not have to worry about consuming too much of it. A cup of baked butternut squash contains only 87 calories and provides you with more than your daily requirement of vitamin A. It also contains half of the vitamin C that you need in a day and is rich in potassium, manganese, folate, iron and calcium. Nutrients are affected by cooking time and the methods used. Steaming small cubes of squash for 7 minutes is one the best ways to retain nutrients. Keep in mind, that adding liquids will reduce the amount of vitamin C and folate, which are water-soluble vitamins. If boiling, keep the cooking liquid, and incorporate it in other recipes.

Here is a great recipe to enjoy a locally produced Nova Scotia butternut squash.

Garlicky Baked Butternut Squash (from allrecipes.com)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a large bowl, combine the parsley, oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Add squash and toss to coat.
Transfer to an ungreased shallow 2-qt. baking dish. Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees F for 50-55 minutes or until squash is just tender
Makes 6 servings.

Many thanks to Jessica Thoje, Yicong Liao, Gaokgakala Evelyn Kgomontwa, Alissa Harker, Alberto Accardi, nutrition students at Acadia University for their super squash tips.

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