Carb Solution: Hard Squash Reboot
By Dennis Linden
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].
Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.
A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
While many hard squash varieties are available year-round, the most flavorful harvests become available in the fall and winter, which is no doubt why this category also goes by the alias of winter squash. At this time of year, hard squash emerges from the deep storage (curing/ripening process) at the peak of quality, and becomes available at retail. One of the most popular is butternut squash, loaded with healthy carbohydrates, vitamins A and C, and potassium; plus, this squash is sweet-nutty tasty! For carb counters, while butternut squash has a medium glycemic index ranking of 51, it has a very low glycemic load of only 3. That's because of the squash's fiber content of 6.6 grams per cup. Fiber slows down the absorption of other digestible carbs, resulting in less of a blood sugar spike. In short, my fellow carb counters, butternut squash is on the menu!
- The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
- The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
A recipe search of butternut squash on the 'net will generate thousands of serving suggestions. In writing for this site over the years, squash has been the featured ingredient many times as well. So much so, that we came up with an altogether new way to present this fall staple, albeit with a little trial and error involved in the recipe development. Without going into the gory culinary details, this scrumptiously delicious comfort food casserole started as a pasta alternative in my mind's eye, but failed miserably at the stovetop. I used a white flour substitute that I was sure would work seamlessly. It did not. So, standing in the middle of my kitchen with a bowl of botched pasta dough, I had to pivot (as in bumped into) to this delicious dish with just a few tweaks to the original ingredient list and recipe steps. And, voilà, a new comfort food pleasure was born!
BTW, Googling the phrase comfort food produces all sorts of theories and explanations by experts on what makes a food comforting. Generally speaking, comfort foods seem to provide a temporary sense of wellbeing that causes a person to, basically, feel good. Unfortunately, foods high in empty carb calories, sugar, fat, and salt tend to be mood elevators that stimulate the brain's reward system, a.k.a. "bad foods." Not being a psychologist, all I know is that fall brings a seasonal chill in the air that requires a sweater, cozy fireplace, and, sometimes, a yearning for a plate or bowl of warming comfort food – however one defines the term!
So, after several tastings of the repurposed dish in light of the above criteria, my failed-pasta-turned-casserole definitely stimulated the brain's reward system with a sense of delicious wellbeing! And true to the theme of this blog, the dish is glycemicly neutral due to the butternut squash's aforementioned high fiber content, as well as the rest of the ingredients almost completely void of carbs! OK, so, the calories are a bit much with the high cream content of mascarpone cheese. Use regular cream cheese, if you must, at the cost of texture and taste (and comfort!). Hey, a little decadence is part of the mental pleasure derived from all comfort foods. However, if you need a rationalization for the calories in this one, here's a nutritional factoid that might help, "Mascarpone cheese contains a large number of essential nutrients such as phosphorous, zinc, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and vitamin A. It is also a dense source of high-quality protein." So, enjoy a little carb-less comfort food … and, just this once, deal with those extra calories tomorrow!
Butternut Mascarpone Bake
1 medium butternut squash; cut in half, seeded (divided}
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated [divided]
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup "Flour" [3/4 cup almond flour + 1/4 cup oat flour], divided
1/2 cup unsalted butter
Salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh sage leaves, chopped fine
Place one half of the butternut squash in a microwave-safe dish with a few tablespoons of water. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to cool, then scoop out the flesh and set aside.
Whisk mascarpone cheese, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese, eggs, salt, and black pepper in a bowl until smooth. Then, whisk in butternut squash, blending until smooth, no lumps. Add in 1/2 cup "flour" and mix until just incorporated. Then whisk in remaining "flour."
Peel other half of squash, chop into bite-sized pieces, steam in microwave like first half, cut cook time to just 5 minutes or until squash begins to soften. Cool, fold chunks into mascarpone-butternut mixture along with fresh sage.
Transfer mixture to a baking dish, sprinkle with other 1/2 cup of Parmesan.
Bake @ 400°F for 20 minutes, then finish under broiler for 5 minutes, or until cheese turns golden brown.