Squash. Whether it’s a tender-skinned summer variety like green zucchini or yellow crook-neck or a sturdy winter storage type like acorn or delicata, squashes are made for stuffing. At this time of year – and especially on a grey day like today – a stuffed squash is a gorgeous way to serve a hearty, comfort-food dinner all in one tidy, pretty package. Although the spectacular end results can look frighteningly difficult, it’s actually pretty easy once you get the basics down, and it turns out stuffed squash is a great way to use leftovers.
Rather than give you a recipe today, we want to talk about method. Here’s what you’ll need:
- an oven at 350
- a skillet
- summer or winter squash, enough so each diner can enjoy a portion whether it’s a single monster vegetable or several personal-sized ones
- veggie or meat stock
- a grain: rice, barley or quinoa all work
- chopped veggies including onions and garlic
- diced, ground or minced meat (optional)
- seasonings you enjoy – even just salt and pepper will do.
The easiest way to stuff a squash is to prepare the outside and the inside separately. You can actually cook the filling inside the squash but this takes longer and can lead to some unpredictable results. If this is your first time, try it separately first.
First, roast your squash. Depending on the size of squash you’ve chosen, you’ll want to prepare it at this point to be stuffable. If you plan on using an acorn or delicata, for example, you’ll probably want to plan for a half-squash per person; cut it in half with a large knife and scoop out seeds and strings. If you’re using something smaller like fist-sized patty-pans, you may prefer to carefully cut out a “lid” from the top, leaving the stem attached as a handle, and scoop the seeds and strings out. Then place your squash cut-side down in a roasting pan with a little water and slide it into the oven.
Depending on the size and skin thickness of the squash you’ve chosen, it can take anywhere from a half-hour to a full hour. The squash is done when the skin dents in when you poke it; this is telling you that the flesh inside has become nice and soft.
While your squash is roasting you can prepare the stuffing. Whether you’re planning to clean out the fridge or start with fresh ingredients, let your palate be your guide: you are going to prepare a stew of sorts that will continue to cook a little within the squash and then be mixed by diners with the squash’s flesh when it is eaten.
Start with your grain ingredient; if you don’t have leftovers, cook your barley, rice or quinoa the way you normally would and set it aside to cool.
If you are using meat in your stuffing, make sure it’s cooked before you stuff when using this method. Fresh Italian sausage taken from its skin makes a great addition; you can use ground beef or pork, minced leftover roast beef or chicken, even bacon. Cook fresh meat in your saute pan first, then set it aside and saute onions and garlic in the same pan. Add other veggies like peppers, diced carrots, celery, even tomatoes are a great addition; trust your instincts.
Once your veggies are softened, add the meat back to the pan, and then the grain. Add a little stock to give it a stew-like consistency and let the pan rest until you are ready to stuff your squashes.
Once your squashes are finished roasting, pull the pan from the oven and flip the hot squashes over so they become bowls. Check the insides to be sure they’re completely cooked, and then spoon your filling into the hollow middles. Depending on your goals you can fill a little or fill a lot. Then grate cheese over it, and return it to the oven for 15 – 20 minutes. The cheese will bubble and brown and some of the juices will overflow when it’s ready.
Whether you’re serving a large squash as a main dish or small ones as sides, diners will be charmed at the pretty packages on their plates. As they disassemble them they can scrape the tender squash from its skin and mix it with the filling for a delicious combination.