Butternut Squash Stuffed with Creamy Quinoa
In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving there seemed to be an awful lot of quinoa-stuffed squash recipes floating around the internets. So naturally, said stuffed squash was at the top of my list of meals to make for the fam.
I thought it was decent: better than okay but not knock your socks off. My family, however, scarfed it like they’d been fasting all day. I need to cook for those guys more often. Talk about feeling like a gourmet.
The dish takes a little while to come together, but mostly because the squash needs to be roasted for a decent amount of time. I halved and seeded an acorn squash, and then did the same for a butternut (although the butternut was so big I quartered it). I lightly coated each piece with olive oil and a healthy sprinkle of salt and roasted them at 450F. The acorn squash was done in about 25-30 minutes, while the butternut needed closer to an hour. Neither is a big deal, but I could’ve gotten a head start on the roasting if I had planned correctly.
Toward the end of the roasting, melt three tablespoons of butter in a large wok or sauté pan. You can totally do a light olive oil here, but I figured I’m home and we’re kicking off the holidays, why not go for animal fat — everyone loves them some butter. Dice half a large onion and sauté in the butter (with a generous pinch or two of salt so it sweats) until translucent. Now is where we get to the Smith tangent.
Last week, Publix was doing a buy one get one free special on celery, among dozens of other must-haves for holiday cooking. So naturally, when Pun and I were doing our Thanksgiving shopping, we nabbed two bunches of celery. Apparently Pops also saw the buy one get one promotion and, celery being his daily go-to snack of choice, snagged two as well. Which means we had four full-sized bunches of celery crammed in the fridge. You see where this is going.
I chopped three large stalks of celery and added them to the well-buttered onions. Meanwhile, I spooned the roasted acorn squash from its shell and diced it. (I use the term “dice” loosely because roasted squash is quite soft and doesn’t hold its shape well. Which is well and good; the end result is creamy and it doesn’t matter how it starts.) I then added the diced/mashed acorn squash to the softened veggies and stirred until well incorporated.
In another pot, I had two cups of garlicky quinoa cooking. When it comes to cooking grains, I shun all instructions on packages. Have you ever followed the instructions and had perfectly executed end product? I think not. That shit is watery, bland, and all-around abominable.
Here’s the simplest, most delicious, fail-safe way to make grains: Heat a tablespoon of olive oil (or other light oil; I find grape seed or sesame seed to be fab too) over low heat. Add whatever flavor you’re feeling: diced garlic is always a winner; diced shallot or ginger gives nice flavor too. Allow garlic (or other) to cook briefly (one to two minutes), before dumping a cup of your selected grains in. With a wooden spoon or spatula, stir the grains so all become coated with the fragrant oil. This process should take mere seconds. It’s important to move quickly, because you don’t want your grains to burn. Cover your grains with two cups of water, cover, and turn the heat to high. Once boiling, turn the heat to low and set the timer for 20 minutes. DO NOT LIFT THE LID FOR ANY REASON once covered. All of the trapped steam is working miracles for you. When the timer goes off, remove from heat, uncover, fluff, and voilà. Best damn rice/quinoa/other of your life.
(Note: since couscous is a pasta and not a grain, its cooking time is 10 minutes. That couscous is a grain is a common misconception. It’s not nearly as good for you as you’d like to believe.)(Note deux: remember to keep your grains to water ratio at 1:2 and the timer is 20 minutes after the boiling point and you’re golden.)
The above grains how-to is so easy I was able to teach Freshy with the same verbal instructions over drinks. For some reason or another, for a few years in New York her go-to drunk meal was making (and burning) rice. Why she endeavored to make a pot of rice while hammered is beyond me. I am happy to report that this recipe changed her life and she’s now a competent rice maker, sober or otherwise.
That’s what, tangent number three? Anyway. Back to the quinoa.
Once my quinoa was cooked I dumped about 3/4 of it in the buttery vegetable mixture (in hindsight I could have used all of it, but I was worried there weren’t enough veggies to go around and didn’t want the quinoa to overpower the dish — a needless worry). Stirred everything together and turned off the heat.
The butternut squash quarters came out of the oven and were lightly dusted with the tiniest pinch of cayenne (not everyone likes spicy but squash definitely needs some pop) and freshly grated nutmeg. They also got a small squirt of honey in their piping hot centers out of habit. Heaping spoonfuls of the creamy veggie quinoa mix were then piled on top of each squash quarter and then topped with freshly grated parmesan and a couple pieces of fried sage. Country rustic goodness, meet Miami Florida.
To me, the buttery quinoa and salty parmesan and fragrant fried sage made the dish. I kicked myself the whole time because I didn’t think to buy a chicken ahead of time. Should I make this again, I’d also serve a roasted chicken alongside for the carnivores. The stuffed squash was seasonal and toothsome on its own, but to take this meal from good to bangin’ I recommend serving some sort of savory accompaniment. Roasted chicken seems to me the perfect (and easy) candidate. Fried sage *and* crispy chicken skin? I can hear the choruses singing your praises after your next dinner party already.