You may know Carolyn Cope as Umami Girl. She stops by on Tuesdays with ideas on preparing the abundance of fruits and vegetables you might get from your CSA or the market. —The Mgmt.
Let me begin by saying this: If you're a squash, you'd better start sleeping with one eye open. And if you wake up in the morning full of savory, custardy bread cubes or currant-studded farro, don't say you weren't warned. At least you'll finally agree with me that it ain't called dressing.
It's not a novel concept, stuffing squash. But I don't think enough people do it on a regular basis, given how easily it elevates an otherwise simple meal to something-special status. I know I haven't always thought to do it as often as I could. But look out, squash. Those days are over. You won't be overlooked, or under-stuffed, again.
Speaking of overlooked and under-stuffed, how about those vegetarians on Thanksgiving, eh? (See how I did that just then?) They're the reason I've been thinking about stuffed squash more than usual recently. Instead of encouraging the beloved veg-heads at your Thanksgiving table to "just pick the bacon out of the Brussels sprouts," wouldn't it be nice to present them with an all-out meatless main dish in the shape of a cartoon flower, like it's no big thing? Who wouldn't be thankful for that?
The beauty of winter squash stuffing is that it's just as flexible as stuffing itself.
Start with the squash. If there's a variety of edible winter squash that doesn't lend itself to stuffing, I'm not familiar with it. Small squash such as the sweet dumplings pictured above, delicata, and acorn squash are perfectly sized for individual portions of savory stuffings. If your stuffing contains some protein, like nuts, eggs, or quinoa, you've arguably got a whole meal in one gorgeous, edible bowl—not that I'd ever be caught dead recommending anyone forgo side dishes on Thanksgiving. Larger squash, especially those with thicker skins, like sugar pumpkins, kabochas, and their many relatives, can be hollowed out and used to serve soups and stews whose ingredients include the squash flesh. I know you already know that, but when was the last time you actually did it?
For most squash, the least wasteful and most convenient method of prepping is to cut the squash in half. For oblong squashes such as butternuts and delicatas, cutting from stem end to root end is the only viable choice. But for acorns, dumplings, and other rounder varieties, you can also cut across the middle to yield a prettier cross-section. Just trim a thin slice off the pointy end, and trim the stem if necessary, to create a stable base. Remove the seeds and pulp, and you're ready to roast.
To roast, preheat the oven to 400°F with a rack in the center. Lightly oil the cut sides of the squash, and place them cut-side down in a roasting pan just big enough to accommodate them. Roast until the flesh is fork tender, anywhere from a half-hour to an hour or more, depending on the size of the squash. If you want to bake your stuffing in the squash, chances are you'll still need to start the squash on its own and flip and stuff it partway through, according to the cooking time on the stuffing recipe.
The delicate flavors of most winter squash can accommodate a wide variety of stuffings. Two of my favorite bread-based vegetarian stuffings, which would stuff a squash beautifully on Thanksgiving, are this one and this one.
What about you? Are you a squash stuffer? If so, please share your best squash stuffing tips in the comments.
About the author: Carolyn Cope writes Umami Girl and manages a CSA in New Jersey.