Blog Action Day – Fresh Produce

When I first read about this event and the topic of climate change, I immediately thought about fresh produce and the farms that surround our suburban area. I love visiting farms – the selection, the produce, the colors, the smells … okay, maybe not some of the smells.

I believe that we can make a small impact not only on climate change, but also economic change by visiting these farms in your area on a regular basis. By purchasing produce locally, you stop the pollution of shipping large quantities of goods across the nation (or world), you are supporting growing in the area, which increases the oxygen output by the plants, and you are using items that are at the peak of their nutritional value by picking them straight off the vine/bush/tree. This last one is my favorite.

I also wanted to show how picking something from a local farm could translate to edible goods, especially since I am all about eating here at Nuts for Nutrition. Eating the good for you stuff – the produce that makes your body say, “Thank you”! So I took a trip with some friends to a local pumpkin farm, just on the northern outskirts of Denver, Rock Creek Farm.

We enjoyed picking pumpkins, exploring the corn maze (for kids) and visiting the farm animals – donkeys, goats and pigs! After picking our big pumpkins, we went to purchase our items and I also picked up some pumpkin pie pumpkins, spaghetti squash and butternut squash. I knew immediately what I wanted to make with the butternut squash.

So I cut them in half (which after doing this, I found that if you cut the bulb separately from the stem, it is much easier to cut each part in half), scrapped the seeds and fibers out and placed in a water filled 13×9″ pan to bake, covered with tin foil. After baking in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes, they were soft and smelled yummy. I let them cool for about 20 minutes, then I peeled the skin off with a knife and placed the meat of the squash into a food processor, adding a little water to help them get smooth.

You could stop here and put them in ice cube trays for baby food. Or you could go further with me and make some macaroni and cheese with it. Yes, macaroni and cheese.

But first, what is so great about butternut squash? This winter squash is rich in vitamin A, which can reduce your lung cancer risk, according to some studies. It is also rich in vitamin C (great to load up on during flu season), potassium, fiber and manganese. Folate, omega-3 fatty acids, copper and a variety of vitamins also fill this vegetable that is as rich in nutrients as it is in color.

This dish I found to be more tasty re-heated than fresh made, so do not shy away from the leftovers. It is not my favorite mac & cheese preparation (and I am still looking for a good healthy one), but it was pretty good considering that most of the sauce is made from the squash puree! I hope you visit a local farm, purchase some squash and try it!

Macaroni and Four Cheeses

(from Ellie Krieger’s The Food You Crave and Food Network)

Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 2 (10-ounce) packages frozen pureed winter squash (or 20 oz. of fresh pureed)
  • 2 cups 1 percent lowfat milk
  • 4 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (about 1 1/3 cups)
  • 2 ounces Monterrey jack cheese, grated (about 2/3 cup)
  • 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon powdered mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until tender but firm, about 5 to 8 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, place the frozen squash and milk into a large saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally and breaking up the squash with a spoon until it is defrosted. (Skip the breaking up of the frozen if using fresh and just heat squash and milk on medium) Turn the heat up to medium and cook until the mixture is almost simmering, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the Cheddar, jack cheese, ricotta cheese, salt, mustard and cayenne pepper. Pour cheese mixture over the macaroni and stir to combine. Transfer the macaroni and cheese to the baking dish.

Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and oil in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, then broil for 3 minutes so the top is crisp and nicely browned.