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Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking

Alison Anton's Natural Cooking Blog offers healthy recipes, inspirational food articles and culinary advice for the natural chef, and features dessert recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Desserts for Every Body.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Squash Those Winter Blues

Root Vegetables and squashes keep us going through the winter, offering good sources of complex carbohydrates and necessary minerals and vitamins. Since these are true winter vegetables, they taste best when they’ve been exposed to colder weather.

For Thanksgiving dinner, my mom (also a professional chef) and I made baby sweet pumpkins and acorn squash served right out of the shell. We dolloped a pat of butter and a generous drizzle of maple syrup into each squash "bowl" and covered it loosely with its cut-out top. They made quite a presentation. For dessert, I made a cheesecake out of turban squash (those big orange squashes that look like UFOs) with a layer of cranberry puree on the top. It was dynamite. The cheesecake recipe will be featured in my December eLetter, Natural Cooking. Sign up here for my monthly eLetter, featuring articles on health, whole foods and healthy cooking techniques, lots of recipes and culinary inspiration!

Winter Squash—The deep orange flesh of winter squash means that they are loaded with beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body. Delicata (long, narrow yellowish) and kabocha (deep orange, elliptical-shaped) are my favorites. Delicata is named for its delicate skin, which can be eaten along with the flesh after its been cooked.

Celeriac—Sometimes called celery root, celeriac is the root of a celery-like plant, but not celery itself. It is a knobby, ugly root that often gets passed up on the produce stand. Celeriac tastes like celery with a rich flavor. It can be roasted with other roots and squashes, as well as added to soups or root purée, and is also a wonderful addition to salads when shredded or diced. Just peel off the outer skin and it’s ready to use.

Fennel Bulb—Fennel is also related to the celery family, but looks more like dill and tastes more like licorice. The bulb is much rounder and larger than celery and is used in the winter months added raw to salads, braised with other vegetables, and is often a component in soups and broths. It is high in vitamins A and C and the seeds have been known throughout history to aid the stomach and digestive tract.

Parsnips—These are in the same botanical family as carrots and look very similar, except that parsnips have a tannish, off-white hue. They have a distinctive sweet taste, but are not usually eaten raw due to their fairly tough texture. Parsnips are delicious added to mashed potatoes, soups or any roasted vegetable dish. Try them roasted with maple syrup. They have lots of minerals and are known to aid colon disorders and constipation.

Turnips—This is a root vegetable with lots of complex carbohydrate for energy. In the same family are rutabagas and kohlrabi. All have a slightly spicy and peppery flavor and are added to stir-fries and salads and make a great side dish braised with herbs. I also like them roasted and pureed in soups.

Squash, Fennel and Apple Soup
Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts

This is one of my favorite seasonal soup recipes from the culinary school in which I graduated and now teach. Like many soups, it tastes that much better after the flavors have melded and developed... make it a day in advance and gently heat it over medium-low to serve.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium fennel bulb, diced
1 tart apple, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large winter squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
pinch cayenne

Warm the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the ground fennel; let toast about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the onions and fennel bulb and sauté for 5 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the apple and garlic; saute another minute. Add the squash, stock, salt and cayenne; turn up the heat to bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes until squash is tender. Purée the soup in batches in a blender until silky. Add more salt and cayenne to bring up flavors, if needed. Garnish with fennel fronds.

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