Butternut squash is one of the most popular winter squash varieties. It has a pale peach color on the outside but yields a yellow-orange flesh on the inside. Its flavor is reminiscent of a buttered sweet potato, and it’s a versatile ingredient in many fall dishes.

Butternut squash ranks high on the nutritional list. One cup of squash has only 82 calories but 6 grams dietary fiber, 580 milligrams potassium, nearly 50 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin C, and over 350 percent of the RDA of vitamin A. Store squash in a cool, dark place for one to two months, but refrigerate once cut.

To cut through the hard peel and flesh of winter squash, try microwaving it for 3 to 5 minutes. It will soften just enough to be able to put a sharp knife through the middle, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds. If using mashed squash, simply place the two halves flesh-down in a glass pan, and pour in ¼-inch of water. Either microwave for 9 to 12 minutes, or roast in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until easily pierced by a fork. If needing cubes, trim ¼-inch from top and bottom of the squash with a sharp knife. Peel with a vegetable peeler, cut in half, and then proceed to scoop out the seeds.

Butternut squash can be roasted with other root vegetables, pureed into a soup, or mashed into a pasta sauce. It’s a fall favorite!

Ground Turkey and Butternut Squash Skillet

2 teaspoon olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 orange or yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 pound lean ground turkey

1½ tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed (about 3 cups cubed)

½ cup water

½ cup part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese

¼ cup chopped cilantro

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and pepper; cook 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and ground turkey. Use a wooden spoon to break apart meat and cook until meat is just browned. Drain off any fat. Add cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper; stir well. Add squash and water. Stir and cover with a lid. Continue to cook until squash softens. Remove lid; top with mozzarella and cilantro. Put lid back on until cheese melts. Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition facts (per serving): 200 calories, 8 grams fat, 340 milligrams sodium, 13 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 20 grams protein

Smith, a registered dietitian, is a nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306.

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