“Delicious Autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” — George Eliot

Fall is such a fabulous season for conscious cooking! The rich, full flavors of autumn fruits and vegetables are bursting with delectably healthy benefits.  Brilliant orange sugar pumpkins, creamy buckskin colored butternut squash, forest green kale, rainbow-hued fall carrots, petite purple potatoes, fat little figs with ripe ruby flesh, lush curvaceous pears and crisp crunchy apples are just a few of the vibrant and vivacious fall ingredients that provide essential vitamins, minerals and a plethora of healing properties.

Butternut squash are wonderfully versatile and can be made into a dazzling array of delightful dishes. Roasted squash cubes can be combined with baby spinach leaves, pomegranate seeds, feta cheese and a pumpkin spice vinaigrette for an absolutely stunning and stimulating fall salad.

Both squash and pumpkin flesh can be used to bake delicious fall treats, such as breads, muffins, cakes, pancakes, waffles, and cookies. Remember to be generous with the spices that complement squash and pumpkin, such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. Spices deliver their own little extra boost of health, which might make moderate indulgences just a bit more virtuous. Ginger may help alleviate certain joint and muscle aches, cinnamon can potentially improve blood sugar management, nutmeg contains certain anti-aging compounds, while allspice may help detoxify and cloves are thought to be anti-inflammatory.

Butternut squash can be roasted whole in the oven; place the squash on a foil lined baking sheet, pierce the squash in several places and roast at 400 until the flesh is completely soft. Test with a fork every 20 minutes or so, until it yields completely to being thus prodded. Remove the squash from the oven and when completely cool, the outer flesh can be quickly and easily removed. Scoop out the seeds (save the seeds if you enjoy preparing roasted seeds) and place the cooked squash in a bowl.

Now you have the base for an array of scintillating soups. Squash marries well with pears or apples, for a slightly sugary edge, or try a butternut bisque, which combines caramelized onions, maple syrup and cayenne pepper for a spicy sweet sensation. Once made, this soup freezes beautifully and can be gently reheated for an easy, yet elegant, autumn dinner party.  Squash and pumpkin flesh can also be used to prepare seasonal dips and spreads that taste great while keeping fat and calories in check.

With plenty of fiber, eating a generous amount of butternut squash may promote regularity. Loaded with Vitamin A, eating more squash may have a positive impact on improving eyesight, and the Vitamin C, iron, folate and zinc found in butternut squash may help keep bones strong. The Vitamin C content may also work to promote healthy skin and boost immune function.

Consider consuming all the fabulous flavors of fall while preparing a delicious life!

Autumn Butternut Bisque

Makes  a large pot  (so you can freeze some for later!).

6 pounds butternut squash

½ stick unsalted butter

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil  (or canola oil)

3 large sweet onions, thinly sliced

1 ½ Tablespoons Trader Joe’s 21 Seasonings Salute (optional)

½ cup all purpose flour

3 cups milk (skim ok)

3 cans (13 ¾ ounces each) of chicken or vegetable broth

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup pure maple syrup

1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)

Prepare roasted squash as described above. Once prepared, melt butter in a large pot over low heat and add oil. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until very golden brown. Sprinkle the flour over the onions, increase heat to medium and stir, for several minutes to make a roux. Mixture will be somewhat pasty.

Whisk in the milk and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, stirring often. Add cayenne pepper and salt. Remove from heat.

When cooled a bit, purée the mixture in batches in a food processor or blender, until very smooth. Return all purée to the pot and add the maple syrup. Taste and re-season with salt and cayenne pepper if desired.  Serve hot, garnished with a few toasted pecans.

Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP, “The Conscious Cook”, is a passionate food and wellness professional who earned her certification in holistic health from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teacher’s College. She earned her cooking experience in the kitchen! Robin specializes in teaching healthy cooking classes to children and adults utilizing fresh, natural ingredients and super simple, delectable recipes. Robin conducts cooking demonstrations for many local organizations and is available for private instruction. For more information go to www.theconsciouscook.net