Pesto-Roasted Squash

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There are two varieties of winter squash I can depend on being available where I live. These are acorn squash and butternut squash. I discovered too late last fall that my local store quits selling pumpkin soon after Halloween. Lesson learned for this year.

I would love to be able to try all of the fabulous squashes I see in food bloggers’ photos from farmer’s markets, but because of my living in a more rural area of the United States, I must be satisfied with what I can get my hands on.

If I plan on roasting peeled chunks of squash, I always reach for the butternut. I mean, would you ever even consider peeling an acorn squash with all of those ridges?
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Alternatively, If I want to roast squash for a dip, a puree, or as vessels for stuffing, I reach for acorns.

Today, I’m roasting chunks of butternut squash, but using pesto instead of tossing the chunks simply in olive oil. It just adds so much flavor, and pesto is especially handy flavoring ingredient during the months when fresh herbs aren’t growing outside.

When I make large batches of pesto to freeze every summer, I always omit the cheese. First of all, it reduces the volume of pesto, and thus, the number of jars, and secondly, I prefer to add my own amount of freshly grated cheese when preparing a dish – such as, for example, pasta with pesto.
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So the pesto I’m using on this squash contains basil, parsley, garlic, pumpkin seeds, and olive oil. The flavor is condensed, without the dilution of cheese. I actually think the inclusion of cheese in the pesto might cause some burning and sticking during the roasting process. If you really want cheese on the squash, wait till the roasting is over, and sprinkle some on right before serving. I did not add cheese.

Pesto-Roasted Butternut Squash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.

Place 1/3 – 1/2 cup of pesto (without cheese) in a large bowl. Add a little olive oil, if necessary, to make a nice slurry. Set aside.
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Meanwhile, trim and peel a large butternut squash. Remove the seeds, then chop up the squash into uniform-sized pieces. Obviously, the smaller the pieces, the less the cooking time, so it’s really up to you and how well you know your oven. Just try to get the pieces similar in size.

Toss the squash pieces in the pesto mixture. Add a little more pesto if you think it’s necessary.

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Add a little salt only if you don’t include salt when you make pesto, which I don’t. Toss, and gently pour the squash into a large roasting pan. Just so you know, I happen to love my 15-year old Mauviel roasting pan, and highly recommend the brand. It’s non-stick and heavy duty.

Place the pan in the preheated oven. The squash should be tender within about 30 minutes, but it depends on your oven, and how small you cut up the squash. Test the squash at some point to make sure you don’t overcook it, or else you’ll end up with pesto-flavored squash mash!
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Today I served the butternut squash with some grilled filet mignon.

You can really mix and match the pestos to the proteins included in a meal. For example, a cilantro pesto would lend itself well to an adobo-rubbed filet. Alternatively, a lemongrass pesto would pair beautifully with an Asian-marinated filet.

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note: If you don’t have any leftover pesto to use simply blend up a slurry of any herbs you can find at the grocery store, such as basil, parsley, and cilantro. Add garlic and olive oil and make a thick marinade of sorts; nuts are not necessary.

Acorn Squash Dip

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Of late, my schedule has been erratic for one lovely reason. A grand daughter. So I’m re-posting from last fall – one of my favorite autumnal dips.

Forget chicken wings and nachos! This is what you want to feast on during a football game! Polish sausage dipped into a curried acorn squash dip!!!

If curry scares you, don’t worry, because there are so many ways to flavor this dip. In fact, if you don’t have an acorn squash, you can always use a can of pumpkin or sweet potato!

So here’s my recipe for this dip:

Curried Acorn Squash Dip

1 acorn squash, halved, cleaned of seeds, or a small butternut squash
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1/2 onion, very finely chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon or so curry powder, or 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon coriander, 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon

First of all, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the acorn squash halves in a pan filled with a little water. Bake them uncovered for at least one hour; poke them to make sure they’re cooked through.

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Set them aside to cool. Once they’re cool, remove the squash from the peel and coarsely chop it.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a saucepan. Add the onion and cook over fairly low heat until it’s practically translucent. Add the garlic and stir it in for a few seconds. Then add the squash. Beat it down with your wooden spoon to mix with the onion and garlic, and let it cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. We don’t want “wet” squash.

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Place the cream cheese in a large bowl and warm it up if necessary. Place a ricer over the bowl with the cream cheese, and rice the squash mixture using the disc with fairly small holes.

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When you’re done, whisk the cream cheese and squash together. Add the salt and curry powder. Taste and check for seasoning.

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The dip is delicious served with pieces of Polska Kielbasa, or with blue corn chips. Serve the dip warm.

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note: Like I said, this dip is also good made with pumpkin puree – add a pinch of allspice to it if you prefer it over the curry powder. If you prefer, keep the dip plain with salt and pepper, or add a little dried thyme to taste. Also, you could substitute a creamy goat cheese in this dip. And for my last suggestion, use my white bean dip recipe for a combination white beans and pumpkin dip. Another deliciously easy fall dip!

Stuffed Pumpkin

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As you can tell from the above photo, that is not a pumpkin. I set out to stuff a pumpkin, but they were nowhere to be found. It turns out that my local grocery store only sells pumpkins until Halloween. I was truly shocked. So, I bought a pretty acorn squash instead.

As I only feed two people in my household, with my daughters grown and gone, I decided it wasn’t such a terrible idea to just stuff an acorn squash. That way, we each got a nice serving of baked acorn squash stuffed with brilliant saffron rice studded with pistachios and cranberries for a more festive feel.

I baked the acorn squash separately, and made the rice separately, but warmed everything in the oven before serving. If you enjoy this kind of flavor profile, complete with the sweetness from the dried cranberries, I encourage you to follow this recipe, or create one similar. There are many different variations possible. Use what you have on hand and what you like.

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Saffron Rice-Stuffed Acorn Squash

1 acorn squash, or larger squash
1 – 0.5 ounce package dried chanterelles
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups saffron rice*
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, optional
Broth, see recipe
Pistachios
Dried Cranberries

Slice off the top of the acorn squash, making a “lid.” Scoop out the seeds using a spoon. Wrap the squash completely in foil, including the lid, and bake the squash in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour. Set aside.
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Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl, and cover them with a generous amount of hot water. Set aside.
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Place the butter and oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.
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Add the onion and sauté them for about 5 minutes.
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Stir in the rice and thyme, if using, and stir it around for about 1 minute.
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Meanwhile, drain the mushrooms in a sieve over a bowl. Pour the liquid into a measuring cup. Add chicken broth to make the total amount of broth/mushroom liquid equal 3 cups.
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Add the liquid to the rice. Bring the rice to a boil, then cover with a lid, reduce the heat to low, and let the rice cook for 30 minutes. All of the liquid should be absorbed.
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If necessary, remove the woodier stems from the chanterelles, then chop them up.
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Add the mushrooms to the rice and fold them in gently.
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When the acorn squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out a little bit of the squash to create a little more space for the rice stuffing.
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Spoon the rice into the acorn squash. Sprinkle with the cranberries and pistachios.
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Alternatively, add the cranberries and pistachios to the rice stuffing and stir to combine. I happen to feed someone who isn’t enamored by the combination of sweet and savory, and so I went the sprinkling route. It just depends how much of the accessory ingredients you wish to taste.
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* I used saffron rice from Marx Foods. It was part of a nine jar rice sampler that I purchased over a year ago, and I’m still playing with. I wouldn’t have purposely chosen saffron rice, since I own saffron, but I must admit this does come in handy, and holds the beautiful yellow color well. It also tastes good!
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Think about all the variations you can create mixing up the ingredients. You can use many different rices, even including wild rice if you love it. And include some lentils as well. And then there’s celery, leeks, and carrots, if you like. Pine nuts or pecans would be just as delicious, and if you don’t like the fruit addition, you can omit them. Curried rice stuffing would be fabulous as well – you just want the stuffed squash to go with the protein you’re serving it with. So many possibilities!

note: This recipe makes about 6 cups of stuffing, so if you did happen to have a good sized pumpkin it would be perfect. I am going to use the excess rice as a side dish, because it’s delicious on its own.