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'Tis the Season for Squash

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November is the perfect time to enjoy both the squish of new snow and the new winter squash. While winter squash is often available from August through March, November is peak harvest time when this vegetable is at its sweet best.

November is the perfect time to enjoy both the squish of new snow and the new winter squash. While winter squash is often available from August through March, November is peak harvest time when this vegetable is at its sweet best. In fact, unlike summer squash, the longer winter squash is on the vine, the sweeter it is.

When buying winter squash, make sure that it is hard and heavy for its size. The squash should have a dull, not shiny, rind. Once home, there's no need to refrigerate the squash; it will last for up to three months when kept in a cool, dry place. Don't be surprised or discouraged if it takes a large knife and some grunt work to cut winter squash open-this is normal. Once cut, uncooked winter squash pieces will keep, wrapped and refrigerated, for two days. Once cooked, the insides are a soft, sweet, delicious treat.

Squash and its seeds have long been valued for their healing effects. Most notably, the deep orange pulp of winter squash is one of the best plant-food sources of cancer-fighting beta carotene, shown in numerous studies to reduce the risk of cancer. As well, beta carotene's anti-inflammatory effects may help to treat conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma.

An orange-red carotenoid, called beta-cryptoxanthin, is found in winter squash and other deeply coloured orange vegetables. In a recent study (CancerEpidemiology, Biomarkers andPrevention, Sept. 2003) smoking adults who ate the most beta-cryptoxanthin-rich foods showed a 37-percent reduced risk of lung cancer. Lutein, another phytochemical found in squash, is also being studied for its role in helping to prevent cancer.

Winter squash is high in potassium, which is helpful in lowering blood pressure. The high vitamin A content makes it a good choice for those with eye and/or skin disorders. The vitamin C content of this vegetable makes it a good choice for boosting immunity.

Aside from the many nutrition-based motivations for investigating this seasonal vegetable, its wonderful taste and versatility offer reason enough to add it to the menu. With so many shapes, sizes, colours, and flavours to choose from-butternut, banana, acorn, hubbard, turban, spaghetti, delicata, delicious, gold nugget, marblehead, and, of course, pumpkin-there's no reason to be bored with squash.

Substitute any winter squash for pumpkin in pie, bread, muffin, and soup recipes. The unique spaghetti squash has stringy flesh that is delicious served with a pasta sauce. Generally, steaming or baking squash is best if you intend to eat it as a stand-alone vegetable. Pur? squash is nice when topped with some cinnamon. Try tossing cubed and steamed winter squash with some olive oil, tamari sauce, ginger, and roasted squash seeds for an impressive gourmet treat.

Simple Squash Recipe

  1. Cut squash in half (it doesn't matter which way) and remove seeds and pulp.
  2. Choose a shallow glass-baking dish that will hold however many halves you plan to bake.
  3. Grease the dish with a bit of organic butter.
  4. Place the halves, cut side down, in the dish.
  5. Cover the bottom of the dish with 1/4-in (6-mm) filtered water.
  6. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 350 F (180 C) oven for about one hour. If you are baking smaller squash, it may take less time. Check for softness with a fork.
  7. A few minutes before removing the squash from the oven, melt 3 Tbsp (45 mL) of organic maple syrup and 2 Tbsp (30 mL) butter in a saucepan over low heat.
  8. Serve the squash cut side up in the rind, to be scooped out. Pour maple butter over cut halves before serving.

This squash goes well with white fish and rice or as a replacement for any orange vegetable you usually serve with your favourite healthful meals.

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