I'm lucky; my family generally enjoys vegetables. That said, I will admit that there are some vegetables they eat mainly because they're good for them, like spinach. Then there are others that they love, that just happen to be good for them. Butternut squash tops that list.
My family's not alone, as butternut squash is a popular vegetable around many dinner tables. What's not to love, with its sweet flavor, silky smooth texture and ability to be used in anything from appetizers to desserts, a talent most other vegetables do not possess? Best of all, it's a nutritional powerhouse.
Butternut squash falls into the winter squash family, along with pumpkin, acorn and turban squashes, just to name a few. Its orange-hued flesh boasts high levels of beta-carotene (which your body automatically converts to vitamin A), as well as a healthy helping of the antioxidant-rich vitamin C. And if that weren't enough, it's also high in fiber.
As if all this good news wasn't enough reason to fit butternut squash into your family's diet, it's also one of the easiest winter squashes to cook because its smooth skin just pares away with a vegetable peeler, and its smooth pulp cooks relatively quickly. It also seems to have fewer seeds than other winter squashes.
Finding ways to incorporate butternut squash into your menu rotation is easy. I love to cube it, season it lightly, toss with a little olive oil and roast in a hot oven until the flesh is browned and tender. This concentrates its sweet flavor and, once roasted, it can be eaten as is, or added as an ingredient to any number of soups, salads, risottos, casseroles — the list is endless. Which is why I always roast more than I need for any one dish. Then I have it handy in the fridge for use throughout the week.
One of my favorite ways to use butternut squash is in pasta sauce. I simply roast the squash and purée it with caramelized onions, broth and just a hint of freshly grated nutmeg before cooking it briefly with some whole grain pasta, Parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts. There's nothing better on a crisp fall night.
Turning the squash into a pasta sauce is also a great way to introduce it to young kids. Let them take the first bite before you tell them what it is. By then they'll already be hooked on this fall and winter treat.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of "Everyday to Entertaining" and "The Big Book of Appetizers." Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.