I used to experiment a lot in the kitchen, making up my own recipes. But Trevor kind of got me out of that habit. He used to be a strictly by the book cook. He’s loosened up a bit, so I now do a little more “freestyle” cooking.
I saw a couple of PBS cooking shows last year that featured stuffed winter squash: “Totally Vegetarian” and “Caprial and John’s Kitchen.” Both gave me the idea to try my own version. I used several ingredients I had on hand — onion, shallot and garlic from Persephone, prosciutto, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.
The great thing about this dish is that you can really play around with this recipe. Try cooked quinoa, barley or millet instead of a wild rice blend. Nutty Gruyere or Asiagio cheese would be great instead of Parmesan. Use pecans or walnuts. Cooked crumbled Italian sausage would be delicious instead of prosciutto. Or omit the meat altogether and it’s a perfect vegetarian meal. Mushrooms would be a good addition, too. The idea is to use great winter flavors that work well together. Also it’s OK if your filling is a little salty because the sweetness of the cooked squash will balance it out.
Freestyle Stuffed Winter Squash
Serves 2 to 4
1 buttercup, acorn or kabocha squash, about 2 ¼ pounds
kosher salt and black pepper
1 4 oz package of wild rice blend
1 tablespoon butter
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
½ teaspoon each dried thyme and dried sage
2 cups of chard, spinach or kale, thinly sliced
red pepper flakes
3 oz of thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
3 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 tablespoon dry breadcrumbs (optional)
½ cup white wine
¾ cup chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons of butter
Preheat oven to 400˚ F.
Cut squash in half from stem to bottom to form two “bowls”. Scoop out seeds with a spoon. Slice off a small sliver from the bottom of the “bowls” so they will sit evenly on a cookie sheet. Place halves on rimmed cookie sheet and brush all sides with olive oil and season lightly with salt and black pepper. Bake for about 45 minutes, until the flesh is fork-tender in the thickest part.
While squash is in the oven, follow package directions for rice, omitting seasoning packet. Add a pinch of kosher salt instead.
In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallot, onion and garlic. Season lightly with salt. Cook 10 minutes until soft and slightly browned. In the last minute of cooking add sage and thyme. Remove from pan and add to a large bowl. Put skillet back on heat and add a little olive oil. Add chard and a light sprinkle of red pepper flakes and salt. Cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add chard to bowl with onion mixture. Put pan back on heat and add a little olive oil. Add prosciutto to pan and fry until crispy and brown. Add prosciutto to bowl.
When rice is done, add to bowl with other filling ingredients. Add pine nuts, ¼ cup Parmesan and bread crumbs. Mix together. Taste and season as needed with salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes.
In the same skillet you used to fry prosciutto, add wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add butter and stock, simmer until lightly reduced and thickened, adding salt if necessary.
Leave squash on the cookie sheet and stuff cooked squash halves with filling. (You may have a little filling leftover.) Top with ¼ cup Parmesan cheese. Place under broiler and broil until cheese is melted and lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes at most.
For a very hungry person, one stuffed half is a good serving. But you can cut the half in half and it’s still a filling portion. Spoon sauce around squash on plate and enjoy!