Acorn Squash Casserole

It’s time for me to really get back into the swing of posting at least one recipe a week. You’d think this would be easy. It’s just one thing I cook, written up once a week.

So today I found something long archived on my iPad when I was prepping a different recipe that I thought I’d post this week (or what was supposed to be last week but I never got around to it). So we’ll start with this one as it pertains more to the coming fall/winter season than the other one. I know it’s still August, but it gets kind of disorienting when the weather remains basically the same all year round.

visual-guide-winter-squash_612
Photo credit: Epicurious

Onto random facts I’ve learned about acorn squash, our squash of choice here. Acorn squash is a winter squash (as opposed to a summer squash). There’s nothing known as a “fall” squash, but winter squash doesn’t actually mean that the squash is harvested only in the winter. I mean, pumpkins are a thing in the fall. Epicurious has this interesting article about winter squashes that I’ve linked to in the photo credit. Essentially, winter squashes are named because these squashes harvested in the fall will last through winter. The picture above is all the different winter squashes you can try. There’s (in numerical order) Kabocha, Butternut, Red Kabocha, Carnival, Sugar Pumpkin, Sweet Dumpling, Spaghetti, Blue Hubbard, Delicata, Red Kuri, Buttercup, and Acorn squash.

I haven’t actually tried a vast majority of these, but I’m most familiar with acorn squash since it was made every so often when I was growing up. Acorn squash could also be called pepper squash or Des Moines squash, but that’s probably rare to come by. It’s a squash that’s mild in flavor so it holds up well to being cooked with other things. Which I like.

Acorn squash is really quite simple to prepare. I like to cut off the ends of the squash and then cut it in half. Then scoop out the fibers and seeds and you have a pretty good base to work with. There are a lot of things you can do with it. I could roast the squash and then stuff it with something, making a whole meal in a squash. Or I can just roast it and cut it up to put it with other things, which is what I’m going to do. Or I could just roast it and eat it like that. The possibilities are really endless.

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Roasting is pretty simple too. All I had to do was drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the squash and season it with salt and pepper. I then roasted it in my crockery flesh-side down to get a nice browning on the squash itself. All it needs is to sit in a 400˚F oven for about 30 minutes and it’s good to work with. Now if I was just roasting this and eating it, it would need to go in the oven for longer. The squash here is partially cooked through, but since it’s going back in the oven, I don’t need it to be cooked all the way. I’d say for just roasting it, a total of 1.5 hrs would be sufficient.

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While the squash was roasting, I had to prepare the stuff I was mixing the squash with. I started with some leeks. Leeks are definitely not one of those things I buy very often. They have a mild onion-esque flavor that’s nice and different if you want to move away from just using some onions. But leeks are always sold in large quantities and I don’t normally make enough things with leeks to justify buying them. Luckily this recipe uses a lot of leek.

To prepare leeks, you have to slice them (kind of like a giant green onion) and then let them sit in a bowl of water. The soaking in water is a crucial step because leeks, for whatever cruel reason, have sand in them. And unless you want to eat sand, you have to get it out. Luckily, sitting in water will do the trick to get all of the sand out of your leeks since leeks float and sand doesn’t. Pretty revolutionary.

Let the leeks soak for a good 15-20 minutes to ensure all of the sediment gets out and then scoop the leeks out and let them dry a little bit. Obviously don’t just pour the bowl of water and leeks through a strainer or you’ll completely negate the reason for soaking the leeks in the first place.

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As for what else I wanted to go into my acorn squash, I decided on some collard greens and a little bit of garlic. The choice of greens is mostly a personal preference. You could use kale here too, but I find kale a little too bitter for my taste. But once everything’s chopped up and the leeks are soaked, it’s time to prepare everything.

I started this the way any sane person would: with sausage. I used some hot Italian sausage because I wanted the little bit of spice to permeate the casserole as a whole. I browned the sausage in a pan to get it to release all of that nice sausage fat.

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To the sausage, I added in the leeks and let it cook for a couple minutes more. Finally I threw in the collard greens and garlic and let it cook until the garlic became aromatic. At this point the collard greens do need to cook down a little bit more along with the leeks. So  I poured in a bit of vegetable stock, covered the pan, and let the contents of the pan steam for a good 10-15 minutes before calling it good.

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By this point the squash was finished roasting so I let it cool a bit and then cut it up into bite-sized cubes. I threw the squash cubes in a bowl and then poured the contents of my pan into the bowl as well. Mix this up and then throw it into your casserole dish.

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The final touch to this casserole is a little bit of a bread topping. To make that, I combined some Panko bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese with salt, pepper, fresh rosemary, and fresh thyme. As with most herbs, if using dried herbs as opposed to fresh, you have to halve the amount of each herb. Dried herbs are much more potent than their fresh counterparts and the last thing you want is to let the rosemary overpower the entire dish.

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So top the squash with the breadcrumb mixture and throw it back in the oven at the same temperature for another 40 minutes or until the bread topping is nice and browned.

Then serve it as is. I served it as a side dish, but I imagine it’s hardy enough that some people could consider it a meal in itself. But this is nice for those fall/winter days or whenever you find some cheap acorn squash and need something to do with it.

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Acorn Squash Casserole

Prep time: 20 min

Cook time: 1 hr 20 min

Ingredients

  • 2 acorn squash
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 2 leeks
  • 3 cups collard greens
  • ½ lb hot Italian sausage
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • ¾ cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 sprigs (~2 tbs) fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2 tbs fresh thyme, chopped
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F
  2. Halve acorn squash and drizzle olive oil overtop the squash, season with salt and pepper
  3. Place squash cut-side down in a casserole dish and bake for 30 minutes until squash is tender
  4. Cut cooked squash into cubes
  5. Slice leeks and place into bowl of cold water, let soak for 20 minutes
  6. Remove leeks from water and let drain
  7. In a pan, cook Italian sausage until browned
  8. Add leeks and cook for another 5-8 minutes until leeks begin to soften
  9. Stir in collard greens and garlic and cook for another minute
  10. Pour in vegetable broth and cook down for another 10-15 minutes
  11. Combine squash and contents of the pan in a bowl and stir to combine
  12. Pour into casserole dish and spread into an even layer
  13. In a separate bowl, combine Panko breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper
  14. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture overtop the squash
  15. Bake in oven for 40 minutes or until breadcrumbs are browned

Dairy-free


 

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