Although our days are still very warm and invite us to spend time outdoor and when possible at the beach, we are at the doors of autumn and the earth is producing the vegetables and fruits of this mild, orange and restoring season. One of the produces I’ve been enjoying the most in this transition time is the butternut squash. I love its sweet taste and its special smooth texture. It reminds me of a particular sweet squash grown only in a specific region of Italy, Emilia Romagna. There it is used in many dishes but my favourite is the “cappellacci” or “rough big hats” which are tasty hat-shaped ravioli filled with this sweet squash and lots and lots of Parmesan cheese, among other exotic ingredients like amaretti and nutmeg!
Italy is one of the major producers of squash in the world but its origin is from South America. While it has been consumed for over 10,000 years, it was mainly cultivated for its seeds and early squash did not contain much flesh. It was from centuries of cultivation and selection of special varieties that we obtained the smooth tasty squash and pumpkins of today’s use that Columbus brought back to Europe from his trip to the West Indies.
Today we appreciate the rich pulp, but the seeds can also be enjoyed as a great snack food. They are a great source of magnesium and phosphorus. They can be obtained from the squash by scooping out the pulp and seeds from the core, separating the seeds and placing them on a cookie sheet to be SLIGHLTY roasted at about 75°C in the oven for 15-20 minutes. By roasting them gently at low temperature and for a short time, their healthy oils do not get damaged and do not become oxidizing agents for our body.
About 90% of squash calories come from carbohydrates, and about half of these is starch-like. But not all not all calories are absorbed and not all starches are the same! Such “carb” content of squash is in fact mostly fibre and brings along with it some key health benefits: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, as well as anti-diabetic and insulin-regulating properties.
Winter squash is one of those vegetables that might be especially important for us to purchase organic since it is very effective in absorbing contaminants like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from the soil.
It is also high in vitamin C (about one-third of the vit C Daily Value in every cup) and particularly rich in antioxidant vit A and carotenoids like no other food. It also offers compounds that are effective as anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory and it contains omega 3 fatty acids, another category of anti-inflammatory molecules.
Science recognizes it as a valuable vegetable, effective for the prevention of prostate cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, and lung cancer and providing compounds that help in the regulation of blood sugar and prevention of diabetes 2: fibres and the vitamin Bs (B1, B3, B5 B6, B9 ). And finally, squash can help keep our cholesterol low: Cucurbita vegetables partially block the formation of cholesterol in our cells by inhibiting an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase.
Best way to use it is steamed (about 7 minutes for cut out squash) or slightly roasted. I like to make it into a smooth soup, with addition of soy or oat milk and nutmeg, and a final touch of grated Parmesan cheese. And of course, I love the slighlty sweet pumpkin pie, that I prepare with no wheat and no sugar!