Don’t you appreciate when a chef thinks “beyond the menu” to make your dining experience as memorable as can be? For you it may be the flowers, candlelight, dishes and room decor. For me, all it takes is a slice of crusty whole-wheat sourdough bread served with a healthy and yummy homemade spread. It’s the prefect way to tantalize the tastebuds. The creativity in spreads are endless including versions of tomato tapenade, red pepper antipasto, white bean puree, crushed olives or just simply fresh ricotta with herbs. Calorie-counters, who view the bread basket as the “enemy of unhealthy carbs” may find that one wholesome slice with a hearty spread is all that’s needed to feel both satisfied and nourished. Sip on sparkling water before the next course arrives and skip the dessert or share one, so that you don’t overdo the empty calories of sugary endings. Recently, a restaurant in Vancouver, BC served a squash puree as an opening spread. It was a delicious (and nutritious) beginning to a most memorable meal!

Here is my version and it’s gluten-free, vegan and fat-free:

(Choose Organic Ingredients When Available):

  • 1 ½ to 2 pounds (or 0.75 to 1 kilogram) winter squash cut in half, seeds removed
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Juice of 1 small lemon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit or 204 degrees Celsius.
Place winter squash halves on a large baking sheet with the cut side down. Add a few tablespoons of water to the bottom of the pan.
Tent the squash with aluminum foil and roast for 60 minutes or, until the flesh is tender when pierced with a fork.
In the meantime, in a saucepan on low heat, combine the maple syrup with the cinnamon sticks and bring to a simmer.
Cover, turn off heat and allow to infuse while the squash cooks.
When the squash is done and cooled, scoop out the flesh and place in a mixing bowl. Add the maple syrup (discard the cinnamon sticks), ground cinnamon, ground cloves, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Mash with a potato masher until smooth.
Serves 5 (Makes about 10 ounces)

Nutrition Facts per serving (224 grams); 133 calories, 0 fat, 8 milligrams sodium, 679 milligrams potassium, 34 grams carbohydrates, 3.3 grams dietary fiber, 1.5 grams protein, 13 percent daily value vitamin A, 33 percent daily value vitamin C, 9 percent Daily Value iron, 8 percent Daily Value calcium.

For more nutritious and delicious recipes with a practical approach to a healthy and wholesome diet including tips on dining out, pick up a copy of Layne’s book: Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy.

Bon Appetit!