Thursday, October 15, 2009

Take this Squash and Stuff it

If you don’t hear from me for a while, you might want to come by and make sure I haven’t been buried by a pile of winter squash. In my efforts to increase the WFQ* of my diet, procure food from more local sources, and eat more seasonally, I get the bigger of the two boxes the CSA** offers. About now, it becomes clear to me that it is difficult for two people to eat one or two squash a week.

Luckily, since squash is so prolific, ingenious cooks have been coming up with different ways to serve it for generations. Luckily also, winter squash keeps well for weeks (sometimes even months if stored properly), so I don’t have to try all those recipes in an insane 10-day squash marathon. I’ve got some time.

After a yummy success with some little stuffed squash last year, I couldn’t wait to try this recipe when the squash rolled in this year. These carnival squash are great for stuffing, since each half is one generous serving. I can roast the squash halves and stuff them, and it’s dinner for two (the usual format around here), and I can eat the leftover stuffing for lunch the next day. Since the quinoa in the stuffing is a complete protein, and all that vegetable matter is quite filling, the stuffed squash is a real meal, at least as far as I’m concerned. (In fact, it’s a rather large meal, which you might want to take into account if you’re a light eater.)

There are all kinds of great foods with which one could stuff a squash, I suppose, but I get a kick out of using “New World” (ie, native to this hemisphere) grain with the New World winter squash. If you haven’t tried quinoa, what are you waiting for? I like the way it keeps a little bit of pop in the bite when cooked (not to be confused with the crunch of an undercooked grain). It has a mild, nutty flavor, and this stuffing, with its savory leeks, sweet-tart dried cranberries, and crunchy walnuts seems a natural accompaniment to the sweet, almost creamy roasted squash.

I’m thinking that if you’re serving a large fall celebration meal (such as, oh, Thanksgiving in a little over a month) with a roasted turkey, chicken, ham or whatever, and you’ve invited a vegetarian, rather than saying, “Oh, s/he can just eat the side dishes,” why not give them just a bit more of your time and serve him/her a little stuffed squash. The squash can be roasted ahead of time, and you can also make the stuffing in advance. Just stuff the squash and warm everything through after you take the meat out of the oven to rest and be carved for everyone else.

This quinoa stuffing is great on its own, just eaten with a fork, although I’d recommend tasting it for salt before adding all the salt called for in the recipe. The squash itself isn’t seasoned much and benefits from the extra punch in the stuffing, but the stuffing might be a little salty by itself. (It will probably depend on the saltiness of the broth you use to cook the quinoa.) So, stuff that squash or just eat the stuffing. Or do both. The stuffing recipe is easily doubled.

*WFQ = Whole Food Quotient
**CSA = Community Supported Agriculture. This one is ours.

Quinoa Stuffed Squash Recipe

To Roast the Squash
Two small squash (four halves) will generously serve four people, and can be stuffed with one recipe of Quinoa Stuffing. You can use this method for roasting most varieties of winter squash, although cooking times will vary.

2 small winter squash

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Cut the squash in half from stem to base. Scoop out the seeds and seed fibers. Sprinkle the squash cavity with salt.

2. Place the squash halves cut side down in a baking dish. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour. Begin testing squash for doneness at 40-45 minutes. It is done when a fork easily pierces the flesh all the way through.

Quinoa Stuffing Recipe
This recipe makes enough stuffing for 4 small squash cavities. You could use chicken broth in place of the vegetable broth. With the vegetable broth it is vegetarian. Use oil for the butter and this dish is vegan.

This recipe is inspired by a recipe in Cooking Light magazine.

1 cup vegetable broth
½ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
½ cup uncooked quinoa***
1 Tablespoon butter
1 cup thinly sliced, well-washed leek
½ cup finely chopped celery
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup chopped toasted walnuts

1. Bring the vegetable broth and ¼ teaspoon salt to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the quinoa. Cover, reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes, or until the quinoa is cooked and most of the broth is absorbed. (Just taste the quinoa to see if it is done.) Remove from the heat and set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet (preferably nonstick, or you may need more butter) over medium heat. Add the leek, celery and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Saute about 8 minutes, or until the leek is beginning to brown, stirring often.

3. Stir in the black pepper, sage and garlic, and cook 1 minute more. Stir in the quinoa, dried cranberries and walnuts, and cook 1 more minute, or until warmed through. Set aside to cool slightly (or cool completely and refrigerate for later use).

For the Stuffed Squash

Oven: 350 F
1. Spoon about ½ cup of completed stuffing into each roasted squash cavity. Place the stuffed squash in a baking dish and bake at 350 F 15-20 minutes or until the squash is very soft and the stuffing is slightly browned on top. If the squash and stuffing were prepared ahead of time, it may take longer to bake the stuffed squash. Increase the baking time until heated through.
Makes 4 generous servings.

***Most quinoa sold in the U.S. has been processed to remove saponin, a bitter, soapy, naturally-occurring substance on quinoa grains. If you have reason to believe your quinoa has not been so processed, you can rinse the grains before cooking.

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