Ingredient of the Week: Butternut Squash
Butternut squash is one of the most common of winter squashes found in Britain. Confusingly though, winter squashes are not only harvested or even grown in winter, it is just they take a longer time to grow than the summer variety. They are from the same family of vegetables as cucumber, courgette and melon. As the butternut squash seeds are contained inside the flesh it is another vegetable that is actually technically a fruit. It is native to America but has spread to Europe and Africa. It has a sweet and nutty taste and is shaped like a bell. It can very easily take on other spices, so tastes great in a curry, or paired with ginger and chilli in this quinoa pilaf. This Moroccan tagine recipe really suits butternut squash as the flesh can be cooked for a long time, allowing it to soften and absorb all the other flavours.
Why is it good for me?
The bright orangey-yellow colour of butternut squash flesh means that it is an extremely good source of vitamin A, more specifically Beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body and helps to protect it from damage. Be it from maintaining a strong and efficient immune system or keeping the skin from deteriorating due to exposure to the suns rays. It can also prevent the development of cancer as it helps to keep cells communicating correctly with each other. Other carotenoids linked to vitamin A in butternut squash are zeaxanthin and lutein, which are phytonutrients needed for the maintenance of good eye health, which I highlight in both my posts on avocado and kale.
Furthermore, if you don’t eat oily fish like salmon or mackerel, then butternut squash is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are needed to build new cells and keep the nervous system working correctly among many other things. While the high levels of vitamin C can stave off coughs and colds as well as assist with the uptake of iron and potentially reduce fatigue. The magnesium also found in butternut squash can help establish a healthy sleep routine thus great for aiding with an athletes recovery during training.
How do I prepare it?
Generally one butternut squash will do 2 meals for me and Neil and so the first thing I do with it is to cut it lengthways in half. I will then wrap the half I’m not using in clingfilm and store it in the fridge for another day. The half I am using I will then deseed and peel it before slicing into the size of piece required for whatever I am cooking. I try to remove as much of the seeds with my fingers first but sometimes some of the membrane remains and so I have to scrape it out with a knife. This can be tricky and so I need to be careful. To peel it I generally use a potato peeler as this is easiest but sometimes the skin is too thick and I need to remove it with a knife. This is definitely not my preferable choice as its a lot harder and I quite often nick my fingers if I’m not careful. I will then lay it cut side down on the chopping board and thinly slice off each end as this is not edible before cutting to size.
How do I cook it?
The flesh of butternut squash can be baked, steamed, boiled or roasted. It’s not particularly pleasant to eat raw. The seeds can also be eaten and are very similar to pumpkin seeds. Personally I prefer it to have been cooked for a while so that it has softened and tastes sweeter. It’s definitely not the quickest vegetable to both prepare or cook but trust me, it’s worth it. It is delicious made in to a soup with sweet potato and flavoured with chilli, or roasted in some olive oil. The flesh takes on other flavours really well so goes nicely with stronger spices or herbs.
Other serving suggestions for butternut squash are that it can be mashed or made in to chips, which makes it a great healthy substitution for potato and can be cooked and prepared in a similar manner. One of the most popular ways with butternut squash at present is to spiralise it to make it look like noodles or spaghetti. This makes a lower carbohydrate replacement for these ingredients and so is popular among the health conscious who are trying to cut down on their calorie intake. At present I need the calories to fuel me for my training and so I haven’t tried it but I imagine once I retire from sport this might become more appealing.
My favourite way to include butternut squash in my diet is mixed with lots of other vegetables, flavoured with some sort of spicy seasoning and roasted for a long time until it is crispy on the outside and soft and sweet in the middle. If this sounds tempting then try my recipe for Moroccan roast vegetables. I also really enjoy it in a risotto, like my mushroom, butternut and kale one, but only if it has been cooked for long enough.
How do you prefer your butternut squash? Do you have any good recipes that you could share? Then please leave your comments below.
Thanks for reading and speak soon.