January 13, 2012

Recipe - Stuffed Butternut Squash

Okay, I finally have to admit it: winter is here. We East Coasters totally lucked out and managed to get away with unseasonably warm weather all through December, but it's catching up with us now. Johnny and I have been piling on the blankets at night, I ordered a few pairs of comfy over-the-knee socks from Sock Dreams for an added layer of warmth, and the hats/scarves/gloves have come out of hiding and taken their rightful positions on our bodies. No snow yet, but I'm sure that's next. I remember sort of secretly wishing for snow a few weeks ago, but I'm beginning to think that was a mistake...

It's no surprise that I've been craving warm food from morning till night with weather like this. I've traded breakfast cereal for oatmeal, salads for soups, and I have a hot mug of tea in my hand every night (our kettle is getting quite the workout!). And while I'm sure I'll be complaining about a lack of produce come March, right now I'm digging on winter vegetables. Butternut squash has got to be at the top of that list. So easy to prepare, so filling and satisfying... it's deep orange color even makes it look warm. Perfect seasonal food.

I remember first having butternut squash as a kid when my parents would make their famous Stuffed Squash. Their version uses bread cubes and sausage and my siblings and I absolutely adored it. Of course, we'd pretty much eat the stuffing and leave the squash behind. Nowadays I'm more like to scarf the squash up first! So how do you replace sausage in a favorite childhood recipe and still get a tasty result? Lots and lots of flavor.

I was drawn to this recipe because it called for an unusual combination of ingredients. Dried fruit and sundried tomatoes? Intriguing. I made some substitutions based on personal taste and what I had on hand and I really loved the result. The sweet and savory flavors blend into a perfect bite and the combination of toasted bread and silky, buttery squash is delicious. I used croutons, but next time I will use crusty bread and cut it into smaller cubes for a more stuffing-like consistency. I really can't wait to make this again!

For his part, Johnny claims his tastebuds were a bit off as he was recovering from a cold the night we ate this. So he didn't like it at first, but he warmed up to it slowly, eventually eating most of his half. He's such a fan of his own stuffing, his mind isn't really open to new interpretations. :-)

Stuffed Butternut Squash
Serves 2
(Based on this recipe by Food.com)

1 butternut squash
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1/2 cup mushrooms, diced small
1/8 cup cooking alcohol (I used Mirin)
2 cups bread cubes or croutons
1/2 cup dried fruit (I used cherries, but cranberries or raisins would also be nice)
1/2 cup nuts (I used chopped walnuts)
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup vegetable stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut your squash into equal halves and remove the seeds (I use a small ice cream scoop for this and it works great!). Rub the cut side of the squash with a bit of olive oil and place cut-side down on a baking sheet. Cook for 30 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the onions, celery and carrot for about 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms and garlic and continue cooking until soft. Add your cooking alcohol to deglaze the pan, making sure the heat of the pan is high enough that the liquid bubbles up and begins to evaporate.

After a few minutes, add the bread cubes, dried fruit, nuts and sundried tomatoes. Stir well and add your spices, then stir in the vegetable broth to soften the bread. Remove from heat.

Allow the stuffing mixture to cool a bit, then spoon it into the cooked butternut squash. Bake on your baking sheet for another 20 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then serve with some lightly dressed mixed greens.

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