Squash: My Hopes of Winning

Squash is funny. It appeals to the very young and toothless, being sweet and so easily, well, squashed. Somewhere along the way between one and a half and two years old, it falls away, landing in the “totally gross” category for most kids by the time they are three. That’s how it’s been for my kids, as was for me, anyway.

My parents grew squash in their garden so it’s not like I was made to eat some gloppy canned version. It was the best squash gets, fresh from the vine, cut in half, spread with olive oil, and roasted till the top was golden brown and the inside was soft and buttery.

I didn’t start liking squash again till I was in my early twenties when my first real chef mentor served up a gigantic Blue Hubbard filled with a gorgeous medley of roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, pearl onions, beets, and butternut squash chunks in a cornucopia for a Thanksgiving Day feast. It was about as impressive as a vegetarian centerpiece can get.

Now of course, I love it. With a pat of butter, a shake of salt and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds…Or roasted and blended with sauteed onions and red pepper for a body and mind soothing soup. Or tiny roasted cubes of squash tossed with corn, black beans and a warm Mexican vinaigrette.

For the first time and to my sheer delight, I grew some butternuts in my own garden this summer, but have yet to experiment with growing other beloved varieties like spaghetti squash, acorn, or curry. This time of year has me usually has me thinking about squash recipes, but there’s another reason I’ve got squash on the brain.

Our local food Co-op is having a recipe cook off with squash as the starring ingredient. Since I was one of the first three contestants to enter, their going to reimburse the cost of my ingredients, whether I win or not. I’m going to make of my favorite recipes: Autumn Squash.

Since this is a stuffed dish, I’ll use acorn squash because it is so very stuff-able and a medium one cut in half makes a very nice entree serving. This version will be vegetarian, so everyone who wants to can try it, though I’ve made it with browned ground turkey or beef with incredible results.

Autumn Squash, serves 4 entree-sized servings, or 8 side dish-sized servings

  • ¼ cup olive oil, divided
  • 2 medium acorn squash
  • 1 cup basmati brown rice or long grain brown rice
  • ½ cup wild rice
  • 1 medium or two small yellow onions, diced small
  • 1 large red bell pepper, diced small
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
  • ½ cup parsley sprigs, cleaned and minced
  • ½ cup toasted whole almonds, roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350. Wash squashes and cut in half from the stem to the bottom. Scoop out the seeds. Use a pastry brush or your fingers to cover the exposed flesh with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Place the squash flesh side down on a baking sheet, add 2 cups water to the pan, and put into the oven for 30-45 minutes. Test for doneness by poking the squash with a fork. If it sinks easily, it’s done. Leave the oven on.

Heat 2 ½ cups cold water with 1 cup brown rice in a covered pan till boiling, then turn down to low for 35 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes.

Add ½ cup wild rice to 4 cups cold water and bring to a boil. Turn down and simmer uncovered for about 40 minutes, until rice is firm but tender (al dente). Drain and set aside.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat till shimmering. Add onions and red peppers. Saute till golden on medium low, stirring often. Add thyme and turn off the heat.

In a large bowl, combine brown and wild rice, onions and peppers, chopped almonds, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

Invert the squash halves and stuff each half with ¼ of the stuffing. Top each with ¼ cup of the cheddar cheese and return to the oven for 15 minutes to heat stuffing and melt cheese.

Serve with a spinach salad or sauteed green veggies like kale, green beans, or broccoli.

For the contest (which is tomorrow), I’m going to scoop the flesh out of one and a half of the cooked squashes and blend it with salt and pepper and a little butter. Then I’ll spread it in the bottom of a baking pan and turn the dish into a casserole for easy serving to customers at the Co-op. I’ll leave one half squash stuffed like the recipe so folks can see how it’s served. If I win, I’ll get $100 worth of groceries at the Co-op, plus 4 member hours which gives me two months of an eight percent discount. Wish me luck!