Fall offers cornucopia of colorful, healthy foods

October 21, 2010

Don’t let the odd shape of a fall squash or the daunting size of a pumpkin put you off – fresh fall produce provides a bounty of nutritious, tasty dishes.

“I think a lot of fall produce – especially winter squash – people don’t know how to prepare them and they look rather funny,” says Alison Massey, a registered dietitian in the outpatient dietitian department at St. Joseph Medical Center. But she’s got plenty of suggestions to turn that odd-shaped harvest into delicious fare.

One favorite is roasted beets. Massey warns they can stain – she uses gloves to peel them, cuts them into pieces and then roasts them in a bit of olive oil in a 350-degree oven.

“Some people peel them after they’re cooked, but I tend to peel mine first because it’s less messy that way,” she says. “They’re great roasted and served with crumbled goat cheese or cooked and shredded to add color and flavor to fall salads.” Oh, and throw some crunchy and slightly sweet-tasting fennel into your salad.

Massey freely admits to using canned pumpkin “just because it’s so much easier,” and uses it to make muffins and custards.

Parsnips are another underused fall vegetable.

“I love the combination of carrots and parsnips,” Massey says. “I like to steam the parsnips and carrots and mash them together like you would mashed potatoes for a flavorful side dish. Roasted parsnips, carrots, onions and other vegetables are also tasty; just top with a little olive oil and herbs de province – my favorite – or your favorite herbal and spice blend.”

Traditional squash recipes often involve butter and cream, which is OK once a season, but not for a regular addition to the diet. Massey suggests finding a butternut squash soup recipe that uses low-sodium chicken broth instead of cream.

Acorn squash can be roasted and halved and stuffed with something like other vegetables, beans and low-fast cheese, or it can be cubed and roasted.

Spaghetti squash is a great way to make a vegetable work like a pasta. When cooked, it separates into strands resembling spaghetti. Top it with your favorite pasta sauce, or mix it in with pasta. “Especially if you have kids, it’s a great way to get in some vegetables,” Massey says.

Pears satisfy a sweet tooth without adding calories. Poached pears are a great dessert – Massey poaches them in wine, but she’s even used orange juice, and adds cinnamon, cloves orange zest or vanilla. Sliced pears make a great salad topper.

Soups are another staple of fall menus.

“I love soups this time of year because it’s so easy, and I freeze them and I have a quick dinner when I get home and don’t feel like cooking,” Massey says. Some of her favorite soups are vegetable beef barley, butternut squash and apple (made with low-sodium chicken broth), chicken and leek, curried carrot, and bean and barley.

Nothing says fall as much as really crisp apples. Head to a local produce stand and sample some fresh varieties. Ginger Gold is a sweet, juicy apple that makes a great snack. HoneyCrisp, usually grown in the Midwest, boasts great crunch and a sweet/tart taste. Macintosh and Rome are good for baking or eating, and a Jonathan is a bit tarter all-purpose apple. A yellow Crispin is sweet and juicy with a firm texture.

For a tasty treat, core apples, and stuff them with dried raisins, cranberries, sliced walnuts and almonds, cinnamon and a teaspoon of brown sugar. Microwave them for about five minutes.

Make a Waldorf salad, but substitute fat-free plain Greek yogurt for mayonnaise. “In the version I make, I use pineapple instead of grapes,” Massey says.

Pair cooked apple slices apples and sage with pork tenderloin, a lean cut of meat. Or make your own applesauce, which is easy. Slice the apples and put them in a pot with just enough water to cover the bottom; cook them until they’re soft. Mash to the desired consistency, add cinnamon to taste and serve warm.

“The biggest thing is for people to explore food more this time of year,” Massey says. “Don’t be afraid to try new things.”