Sweet, Creamy Butternut Squash

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Of all the winter squashes, butternut squash is the easiest to work with; it has thin skin and can be easily peeled with a vegetable peeler. Its dense flesh and robust flavor work well in a variety of dishes, from sweet to savory.

And the health benefits are plentiful. Want to boost your immune system? Choose butternut squash…1 cup contains about one third of your daily amount of vitamin C. The butternut squash, which is also high in fiber, is a fantastic food for your heart!! Are you struggling with your energy levels or at risk for type 2 diabetes? Then butternut squash is an excellent choice for blood sugar regulation.

The butternut squash’s tangerine color clearly indicates butternut’s best health perk. The color signals an abundance of powerhouse nutrients known as carotenoids, shown to protect against heart disease. The very high levels of beta-carotene in butternut squash provide a deterrent against breast cancer and age-related macular degeneration. A 1-cup serving gives you nearly half the recommended daily dose of antioxidant-rich vitamin C.

Give these recipes a try with your purchase of Butternut Squash, available now at your local produce market!

Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon Soup

1 butternut squash (about 3 pounds), peeled, seeded and cut in 1-inch chunks

1 onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, chopped

4 slices bacon, diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the soup

4 slices bacon, diced

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

2 1/2 cups chicken stock, or more, to taste

1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese

2 tablespoons chopped chives

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet or coat with nonstick spray.

Place butternut squash, onion, bell pepper and bacon in a single layer onto the prepared baking sheet. Add olive oil and garlic; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Gently toss to combine.

Place into oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until butternut squash is tender, stirring at halftime.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add bacon and cook until brown and crispy, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Heat a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add butternut squash mixture and thyme, and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in chicken stock and puree with an immersion blender.

Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5-10 minutes. If the soup is too thick, add more chicken stock as needed until desired consistency is reached.

Serve immediately, garnished with bacon, goat cheese and chives, if desired.

Serves 6, each serving contains; Calories 297, Fat 18 g, Cholesterol 15 g, Sodium 76 g, Carbohydrates 32 g, Protein 6 g.

Parmesan Butternut Squash Fries

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch thick matchsticks

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Coat a cooling rack with nonstick spray and place on a baking sheet; set aside.

Place butternut squash in a single layer onto the prepared baking sheet. Add olive oil, thyme, oregano and cayenne pepper; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Gently toss to combine.

Place into oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp.

Serve immediately, topped with Parmesan and garnished with chives, if desired

Creamy Light Mac and Cheese

(I demonstrated this one years ago at the Lenoir County Farmers Market and it was a big hit)

3 cups cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 [1-pound] squash)

1 1/4 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth

1 1/2 cups fat-free milk

2 garlic cloves, peeled

2 tablespoons plain fat-free Greek yogurt (I add a tad more of this, it makes it slightly creamier)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese

1 cup (4 ounces) grated pecorino Romano cheese

1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided

1 pound uncooked elbow macaroni (or your favorite)

Cooking spray

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine squash, broth, milk, and garlic in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until squash is tender when pierced with a fork, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place the hot squash mixture in a blender. Add salt, pepper, and Greek yogurt. Remove the centerpiece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Place blended squash mixture in a bowl; add Swiss, pecorino Romano, and 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir until combined.

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain well. Add pasta to squash mixture, and stir until combined. Spread mixture evenly into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add panko, and cook for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Sprinkle evenly over the hot pasta mixture. Lightly coat topping with cooking spray.

Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately.

Serves 8, each serving contains; Calories 390, Fat 10.9 g, Protein 19.1 g, Carbohydrate 53.9 g,

Fiber 3.2 g, Cholesterol 31 mg, Sodium 589 mg.

Butternut, Squash and Onion Sauté

1 T olive oil

1 T butter

1 onion, chopped

Pinch of salt

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 butternut squash

A few twists of fresh cracked black pepper

1/3 cup walnuts, chopped

2 T parsley, chopped

Peel, deseed, and chop the butternut squash into little cubes – approximately an inch in diameter.

Heat the oil and butter in skillet over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add onion, a pinch of salt, and sauté until the onion starts to brown – anywhere from 10-15 minutes. Add garlic, and cook 1 minute more to release the wonderful fragrance.

Raise the temp to medium-high, add squash, and cook – stirring every now and then – for about 10-12 minutes, or until the cubes softened and start to brown. If they are browning before softening, add a tablespoon of water and cover with a lid for a few minutes at a time, then stir. Repeat as needed.

Place in a serving bowl and toss with black pepper, walnuts, and parsley.

Serves 6, each serving contains; Calories 121, Fat 8.5 g, Cholesterol 5 mg, Sodium 69 mg, Carbohydrates 11 g, Protein 2.7g.

Butternut Squash Casserole

1 large or 2 medium butternut squashes, peeled and sliced

1/3 cup onion, minced

1 cup bread crumbs

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/4 cup butter

Fresh cracked black pepper

1/4 cup cream or whole milk (2% works but do not use skim, nutrition facts set on whole milk)

Paprika to taste

Rub a large casserole with butter or spray with your favorite cooking spray. Place a layer of squash on the bottom of the casserole. Sprinkle with onion, bread crumbs, cheese, sprinkle with pepper, and dot with butter. Repeat until all the ingredients have been used (likely about three layers so portion your ingredients appropriately). If you have too much squash, you can cut it into small chunks and stuff it in the pockets.

If you love cheese, add a bit more on the top, but do not fill too closely to the top so it does not over flow while it bakes. Leave about 1/4 inch free.

Drizzle the casserole with cream or milk and sprinkle with paprika.

Cover and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes. Test the squash for tenderness. If the squashes are not tender, re-cover and bake a little longer. Thick slices will take longer to cook.

Allow the casserole to “set” uncovered for about 10 minute and then serve.

Serves 8, each serving contains; Calories 191, Fat 11 g, Cholesterol 31 mg, Sodium 233 mg, Carbohydrates 17 g, Protein 6.2 g.