Stuffed Squash with Rice, Beef and Mushrooms

Stuffed Squash
Before the addition of cheese and going under the grill to brown it! The black shreds are sauteed black trumpet mushrooms, which look a little boring but are so, so very delicioius!

I know that I tend to go on and on about stews and soups come (every) autumn, but here is a dish which I make at every opportunity I get, and which makes a beautiful and delicious (not to mention much speedier!) alternative to a long-cooked stew as a fall-weather main course for a dinner party, or just a sit-on-sofa-with-bowl-in-lap sort of evening.

Stuffed squash is something which I make entirely too rarely since I’ve moved away from the USA.  Why?  Well, because in USA the so-lovely-for-stuffing Acorn squash and the like are much more widely available a lot more of the year, while in Europe (at least here in Scandinavia), the only time I can buy a stuffing-type squash (Kabocha, Hokkaido aka Red Kuri or, more rarely, Acorn) is in the fall when they are in season.  I can get butternut (which are lovely) any time of year, but I don’t like to stuff them.  It’s the shape thing.  I’d rather roast them or put them in soups or stews or salads, but for stuffing I want one of the types with evenly-thick flesh around a round cavity and the flakier texture when cooked.  Color me spoiled.

So when I do get my greedy paws on one of those (or a few – I’ll buy more than one when I see them, they keep excellently well!), the immediate thing that comes to mind is to roast and stuff it, because to me, that’s what makes the flavor and wonderful texture of this vegetable truly shine.

Needless to say, you can stuff it with just about anything, so in a way, this is not a recipe, but a suggestion for a method.  Sweet squash flesh goes wonderfully well with strong flavors such as beef, bacon, mushrooms, sage, rosemary, parsley, garlic, other herbs, and obviously cheese is a marriage made in heaven.  I like adding rice because it adds a great texture, but were I to be avoiding carbs as I should, I’d have skipped it or tried something like quinoa (note to self, good idea for next time!).

Without further ado, here’s what you need and what you do to feed 2 rather hungry persons:

The recipe can be multiplied, but please note that the guidelines below will probably make about 3 squash halves’ worth of stuffing (it’s hard to make a smaller quantity of it unless you freeze your ground beef by the tablespoonsful, which I don’t), so increase the stuffing quantities by a third for the 2nd squash (portions 3 and 4) you want to roast, and then double it if you are stuffing 4 of them to make 8 portions.

  • 1 medium-sized squash such as Red Kuri or Acorn, halved (if you have a large Kabocha, you can feed 4 people by cutting it into quarters and piling stuffing in those).
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A bit of oil of your choice to drizzle the squash
  • 2 pieces of aluminium foil to 1. wrap the baking dish (squash juice baked on is hard to wash off!), and 2. to cover the squash as it roasts to avoid over-browning – optional but they make both cooking and cleanup easier.

Some but not necessarily all of the below, or something else to stuff into squash:

  • A knob of butter, divided in 2 pieces.  I usually advocate unsalted butter, but salted butter is more than fine here.
  • 1 dl (dry) long-grain rice – cooked but not overcooked, and drained.  Or some quinoa, or bulgur or whatever you want to add bulk.  Or nothing, you can just stuff it with meat and shrooms and cheese, you know!
  • 100-200g ground beef or bacon lardons, or sausage sans casing
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Some mushrooms if you have them, sliced.
  • Greens such as parsley or rosemary or a leaf or two of sage, or dried herbs.
  • 1 tsp of chili flakes or cumin or smoked paprika (or regular paprika!), or curry powder or even a some spice mix that you like.
  • Some well-melting cheese, to top – shredded

Here’s what you do:

  • Preheat the oven to 180C.  Place a rack in the middle-or-just-below-middle position.
  • Scrape the innards out of squash and discard or keep for seeds if that’s what you like to do.
  • Wrap a baking dish that would hold the 2 pieces of squash cut-side-upright snugly in foil.  If your baking dish is too big, you can stabilize the squash halves by crumpling some foil balls and stuffing them in-between.
  • Salt the inside and cut edge of squash lightly and drizzle with oil.
  • Place the squash into preheated oven and roast about 30 minutes, covering with 2nd piece of foil once the edges are turning golden so they don’t over-brown.
  • Check on squash (it’ll probably need another 15-20 minutes in the oven) and make your filling – boil the rice, brown the ground beef with the spices and herbs (if using dry ones), fry the mushrooms and garlic and/or onion, mix the whole thing in your pan (add fresh herbs if using fresh), and take off heat to rest, covered, till squash is ready (which should be very soon, so stuffing should stay warm).
  • Squash is ready when it can be easily pierced with a fork all the way to the skin (be careful and don’t tear the skin, though).
  • Take squash out of oven.  There will probably be small puddles of squash juice in bottoms of the squash halves.  Leave them there!
  • Stuff the squash as tall as you want to, press half a knob of butter into each mound, and top with shredded cheese.  If you have stuffing left over, don’t sweat – it makes for a nice lunch reheated the next day!
  • Move your oven rack up, and turn your broiler (top element) on to 250C.  Brown squash for a few minutes without taking your eyes off it – the cheese should melt and bubble.
  • Once the cheese is browned to your liking, take the roasting dish out, and place squash halves into deep bowl so that they are kept upright for easier eating.

I like to eat this by scraping the squash flesh off the sides and eating forkfuls of that mixed with the cheese-coated stuffing, slowly digging my way to the bottom.  To me, this tastes like autumn, all warm and orange and speckled with white rice and browned meat, and spices and herbs, and deliciously aromatic.  Your stuffing and experience may vary, but I do hope you’ll try this, now that the squash is ripe, and while it lasts!

No, I don’t have the ‘finished’ photos of this.  I am sorry, we were too busy eating.  Actually, I’m not sorry, we were really too busy eating to take pictures – and it was awesome!  I might update the post later if I do the same thing with the other squash, though.

P.S.  I found this red beauty in Lidl here in Jyväskylä, but I suspect that this type (Red Kuri aka Hokkaido) or Kabocha will be popping up in most well-stocked supermarkets right about now!

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