A winter squash display is a fitting decoration for the Thanksgiving table. But the squashes’ highest calling must be to become centerpieces of the menu, sharing the spotlight with the turkey. What better way to give them a place of honor than to bake the holiday stuffing inside them? Besides, they can be a fine main course for any vegetarians at your Thanksgiving table or for meatless holiday menus.
A memorable pumpkin risotto I sampled in Italy gave me the idea of putting the two elements together in a different way–using the rice as a stuffing for small pumpkins or for hard-shelled squashes. I opted for one of my favorite rice preparations, a Provencal pilaf embellished with plenty of toasted almonds and raisins. For Thanksgiving I gave the festive rice mixture a decidedly American twist. I used bright red, dried cranberries in place of raisins, and pecans instead of almonds. To complement these flavors I seasoned the rice with cinnamon and grated orange zest. The rice stuffing tastes delicious even when made with just a small amount of oil or, for meatless meals, butter.
Traditional American bread stuffings also bake beautifully in squashes. So do bulgur wheat stuffings, like the one in the recipe below featuring figs and almonds, which lends Israeli/Middle Eastern flair to a festive dinner.
If you want to infuse your stuffing with the taste of turkey, as if it had baked in the bird, you can baste it with some of the pan juices. Be sure to do this only after the turkey is completely cooked.
For stuffing I opt for tasty, fairly small squashes that are easy to prepare. My top choices are the striped, sweet, zucchini-size Delicata and the ridged, grapefruit-size Sweet Dumpling. The small green-skinned Japanese orange-fleshed pumpkins called kabocha squashes or kabocha pumpkins are also delicious, with a rich texture that recalls that of sweet potatoes. I also like the old-fashioned scalloped acorn squash with deep orange, dark green or pale yellow skin, as its large cavity holds plenty of filling.
Stuffed squash is a great time saver in many ways, whether or not turkey is on your menu. First, you have stuffing and vegetable all in one attractive dish. Second, a squash is easier to stuff than a turkey. Besides, a turkey roasts much quicker when it is not stuffed.
The simplest way to fill a squash is to cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, bake it and spoon the stuffing inside. Then it needs only brief reheating before it is served. When I’m cooking dinner for two, I use the microwave to cook the squashes. The fruity stuffing points up the vegetable’s naturally sweet taste, so I rarely cook the squash with sugar.
I don’t stop stuffing winter squashes after the holiday is over. Chances are you too will be thankful for these beautiful, healthful, stuffed squashes and you’ll serve them for many more autumn and winter dinners.
Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home and 1,000 Jewish Recipes.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.