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Home on the Range: Harvest-Stuffed Squash

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Harvest-Stuffed Squash packed up for a friend - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Harvest-Stuffed Squash packed up for a friend
When my now 23-year-old son was about half that age, he was obsessed with soccer. One day, he asked me if I loved cooking as much as he loved playing soccer.

I remember thinking about it for a minute and recognizing — somewhat belatedly, to be honest — that it wasn't so much the act of cooking I loved, but cooking for people.

There is something satisfying about taking raw ingredients and dicing and slicing and sautéing and simmering up something delicious. But it's seeing the faces of friends and family gathered around a table — or outdoor firepit —enjoying that food and each other that brings me the most joy.



As of recent days, our in-person circles have shrunk drastically. I'm grieving the loss of  serving up warm soups and stews to small groups of friends (safely distanced) outdoors, though I understand why it is necessary. It's really a minor hardship in the bigger picture.

But just because we can't be together in person, that doesn't mean I can't cook for others.

On Sunday afternoon, I simmered up a big pot of Mexican-style meatball soup for my book club and packaged containers of soup and garnishes. A friend made us all margaritas. Over Zoom and bowls of the same soup, we talked about the book but also about how we were all managing — and struggling, too.

A couple of weeks ago, I made a "welcome baby" meal for another friend. This, at least, is cooking I'm used to doing without being present when it is eaten — although I missed peeking at the newborn and hugging the new parents.

My kitchen was filled with the comforting smells of roasting squash and onions and garlic slowly caramelizing. It felt so good to package up the stuffed squash along with my own garden-grown broccoli and know that it was going to nourish the newly expanded family.

I have already decided that I will bake my normal big batch of our traditional Thanksgiving squash rolls even though I'm only cooking for three this year. I plan to make little care packages of the golden rolls and drop them off on the doorsteps of a few friends.

It seems kind of obvious, but when we feed others, we are also feeding ourselves in a different way.

Harvest-Stuffed Squash

Makes 6 servings
This recipe is completely flexible. For the version in the photograph, I used mild turkey sausage and added some cooked wild and brown rice because I had no mushrooms. I also subbed onion for the leek. I skipped the cheese because of lactose-intolerance in my friend's family. For a vegetarian version, I would substitute 2½ cups of cooked brown rice and some toasted almonds for the turkey.

Ingredients

  • 3 small whole winter squash
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 ounces farmed or foraged mushrooms
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 large leek, white and light green parts only, chopped and washed well (sub: onion)
  • 1 pound ground turkey (sub: any ground meat, vegetarian "meat," or 2½ cups cooked rice or quinoa)
  • 1 large apple, cored and diced (no need to peel)
  • 1½ tablespoons minced garlic (about 5 cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, optional
  • ½ cup grated hard cheese (about 2 ounces), such as cave-aged Orb Weaver or Tarentaise from Thistle Hill Farm or Spring Brook Farm

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 400ºF.  Cut each squash in half across the middle and remove the seeds and stringy bits. Cut a small slice off the stem and the blossom ends of pumpkins or acorn squash so the halves can sit flat on their bottoms.
  2. Lightly oil a large rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of the oil and place the squash on it flesh side down. Roast until tender and cooked all the way through but not collapsed, 25 to 40 minutes. (This can vary widely depending on variety and size of squash.) Remove from the oven and set aside on the baking sheet, but leave the oven on.
  3. Slice or tear the mushrooms into bite-size pieces and toss them in a baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the oil, ½ teaspoon of the salt and a few grinds of the black pepper. Roast at the same time as the squash until golden and a little crisp at the edges, 15 to 25 minutes depending on the mushroom variety (button mushrooms will take the longest).
  4. While the squash and mushrooms are roasting, warm the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the carrot and leek and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leek has softened and turns golden, 6 to 8 minutes.
  5. Add the turkey, the apple, the garlic, the remaining 1 teaspoon of the salt, and the smoked paprika, if using. Mix well and cook, stirring occasionally to break up the meat, until the turkey is cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the mushrooms. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
  6. Turn the roasted squash halves onto their bottoms on the rimmed baking sheet. Fill each half generously with the turkey mixture and top each with a sprinkle of the cheese. Return to the oven to melt the cheese and warm through, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Source: The Little Local Vermont Cookbook: Recipes for Classic Dishes by Melissa Pasanen
Got cooking questions? Email pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.