Last week an article in the New York Times reported that bake sales are banned from all state-funded public schools. Now, I know childhood obesity is no laughing matter but is a brownie at an occasional bake sale really to blame for the 16 percent of children (that’s over 9 million!) between the ages of 6-19 years old who are overweight or obese?
Banning bake schools in schools seems a little bit overzealous to me. Bake sales might give some children the tools to overindulge but for many, it’s simply a special occasion that warrants a treat.
Now, you’re probably thinking: who am I to wax eloquent about childhood obesity when I don’t even have children? But in reality, I think these bake sales do represent a certain eagerness in people, kids and adults: why are we so quick to declare something a treat?
Cakes, candies, cookies, indulgent pasta dishes and thick, juicy steaks are all treats when we don’t have them often. But if we’re indulging daily in raspberry breakfast cake we might be missing other important nutrients. If you’re eating something more often then once in awhile, can we still call it a treat?
I try to eat sweets and higher-calorie food items in moderation (yes, try is the operative word here). To keep cravings in check, i like to make things that sound indulgent, taste indulgent and deliver important nutrients from vegetables like spinach, squash and whole grains such as those found in Barilla Whole Grain penne.
This is a great meal to make on a Sunday and portion out for the week. If you use a whole butternut squash, baking it and making the puree can be time intensive, but you can speed up the process by using cubed squash (Trader Joe’s sells it prepared) or even a frozen winter squash puree in lieu of making your own with cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla).
Butternut Squash Baked Ziti
For Butternut Squash Puree:
1 large butternut squash (3-4 lbs), peeled, cubed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 cup light brown sugar (packed)
For Baked Ziti:
12 oz. uncooked ziti (I used whole grain penne pasta)
2 tablespoons butter (I prefer unsalted; there’s salt in the cheese)
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups low-fat or reduced-fat milk
Pinch of nutmeg
2 cups fresh spinach, rinsed and coarsely torn
2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Prepare pasta according to package directions and cook until slightly al dente (pasta will cook further in the oven).
2. Slice butternut squash in half, lengthwise. Scoop seeds from the center and discard. Bake pieces in a glass baking dish, cut side down, for 30-35 minutes or until lightly browned and tender. When cooled, scoop flesh into the bowl of a food processor (I used my 3-cup Mini Prep) and pulse until combined with vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. [If you do not have a food processor, or this step is too labor intensive, you can use frozen winter squash puree, defrosted, or roasted pre-cubed squash].
3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a heavy medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg. Cool slightly. Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.
4. In a large bowl, combine squash puree, sauce, penne =, spinach, mozzarella cheese and half of the Parmesan cheese. Butter a 13x9x2 inch glass baking dish and arrange pasta in dish.
5. Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake the ziti for 40 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the ziti. Continue baking uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, 15 minutes longer. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.