Winter Wonder Food

Winter squash, once regarded as pedestrian and bland, has become extremely popular. You'll find it on the menus of trend-setting restaurants and on the recommended anti-cancer food list.

All varieties of winter squash have a wonderfully rich, mellow taste. More than that, squash is a nutritional powerhouse. It has a healthy dose of vitamin A, traces of vitamin C and potassium, lots of fiber, no fat and practically no sodium.

One-half cup of pureed butternut squash, for example, packs in 7,100 IU's of vitamin A, way ahead of the recommended daily allowance of 5,000 IU's. Its carotenoids are believed to be premier players in the fight against cancer. All this for only 40 calories.

All winter squashes are interchangeable in the recipes that follow, save spaghetti squash, which harbors crisp, crunchy strands rather than a mass of orange flesh. It's easy enough to microwave whole squashes (for those weighing about 3/4 pound, it takes at least nine minutes on high--be sure to pierce the skin with a sharp knife beforehand) or grill or roast squash wedges.


The squash in this cake lends a mellow flavor and a delicious texture. The cream cheese glaze sets up nicely, just sealing in the spiciness. If you want to forgo the glaze, sprinkle the cake with powdered sugar, pressed through a fine sieve. Add more sugar if the squash does not taste sweet.

2 large eggs

1/2 cup safflower or canola oil

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup cooked pureed squash

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup light cream cheese, room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons milk

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Freshly ground nutmeg, for sprinkling

Beat eggs, oil, sugar, squash and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract until mixture is very thick and flowing, about 4 minutes. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Mix well. Transfer to greased 13x9-inch baking pan. Use spatula to evenly smooth out batter.

Bake at 350 degrees until very lightly browned, just beginning to pull away from sides and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 18 to 20 minutes. Do not overbake. Transfer pan to cake rack to cool completely.

Mix cream cheese, milk, remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla and powdered sugar in food processor fitted with metal blade until smooth, or combine in small mixing bowl and mix with wooden spoon until smooth.

Spread evenly over cooled cake. Lightly sprinkle glaze with freshly grated nutmeg. Let glaze set for about 1 hour before serving. Can be made a day ahead and kept at room temperature in baking pan, covered with foil. To serve, cut into 12 squares.

Makes 12 servings.

Each serving contains about:

235 calories; 117 mg sodium; 39 mg cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 32 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.25 gram fiber.


This thick, velvety soup is sweetened by the squash and the pear. The small amount of half-and-half gives it the smoothest finish; it can be omitted if you choose.

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 cup minced celery

1 cup minced onion

2 1/4 cups peeled, seeded and diced winter squash

1 large potato, peeled and diced

1 large pear, peeled, cored and diced

3 (14 1/2-ounce) cans vegetable broth

1 cup water

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 cup half-and-half


Freshly ground pepper

Heat oil in 3-quart pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add celery and onion. Cook until hot and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add squash, potato, pear, broth, water, cumin and nutmeg. Simmer, covered, until squash and potato are soft, about 25 minutes.

Strain vegetables from cooking liquid, reserving both. Puree solids in food processor or in blender until completely smooth, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup reserved liquid to food processor to make mixture smoother. Return pureed mixture and reserved liquid to pot. Add half-and-half. Heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Can be made 3 days ahead and refrigerated or frozen as long as 6 months.

Gently reheat. Serve hot.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

174 calories; 1,067 mg sodium; 4 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 31 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 2.13 grams fiber.


3/4 pound penne or other tubular pasta

3 cups peeled, seeded and diced winter squash

2 leeks, tough greens trimmed, split lengthwise, washed, sliced thin

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 tablespoon olive oil


Coarsely cracked pepper

Cook pasta in plenty of lightly salted boiling water until al dente. Three minutes before end of cooking, add squash. Stir into pot. Add leeks for last full minute of cooking.

Drain pasta and vegetables, reserving 2 to 4 tablespoons cooking liquid. Place pasta and vegetables in shallow serving bowl. Toss with Parmesan, nutmeg, olive oil, salt and pepper, adding reserved liquid if mixture is too dry. Adjust seasoning. Serve hot. Pass additional grated Parmesan cheese.

Makes 4 main-course servings.

Each serving contains about:

442 calories; 204 mg sodium; 5 mg cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 81 grams carbohydrates; 15 grams protein; 2.41 grams fiber.

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