November celebrates a variety of causes: National Novel Writing Month, National Adoption Month, National Pomegranate Month, National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, the list goes on. In Australia and New Zealand, November is the month men sport moustaches to raise awareness on men’s health issues. They call it Movember.
Though only a few days remain, I’m declaring this Squash Appreciation month. I’ve met many who claim they are simply Not A Squash Person. As though we are our own breed. Here is a dish to celebrate and appreciate a seriously overlooked nutrient-packed gourd.
In my fascinating grad school studies, I recently came across two terms apt for introducing this squash-altering experience.
This cheesey squash dish is the divine combination of everything we seek for our cultural eating dilemma:
neophilia: the pleasure of variety
neophobia: the comfort of the familiar
Do you love homemade mac and cheese? Creamy with crispy breadcrumbs on top? Do you love the idea of eating something remarkable nutritious that hardly tastes like it could be so darn good for you?
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Mac and Cheese or Baked Shells with Winter Squash
tweaked from Great Food Fast, serves 6
4 tbsp. olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb. butternut or acorn squash, seeded and chopped into 2-inch cubes (pre-cut saves incredible time)
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 lb. whole-wheat medium pasta shells or other medium shape
breadcrumbs (fresh or store-bought)
Prep the Squash
If you can find frozen squash puree, that’s one less step. But if you find that a challenging task, simply roast the pieces of squash. On a baking sheet, combine 1.5 tbsp. oil with the squash, season with salt and pepper, and roast at 400F until just tender.
Speed it up: steam squash cubes in the microwave until tender throughout. a little water in the bottom of a casserole, covered and cooked about 6 minutes removes time and considerable fat from dish—no need to cook the squash in olive oil with this method.
In a food processor, puree the squash, seasoning with pepper if needed. You need about 2 cups of squash. You can also use a blender or an immersion blender, adding some pasta water to help puree.
Caramelize the Onions
Meanwhile, heat 3 tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion pieces, season with salt and pepper and cook until onions go from this
about 25 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling well-salted water for 2 minutes less than the package suggests. Drain and reserve 2 cups of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot.
Bake the Casserole
Stir the squash puree and reserved pasta water into the onions and simmer for two minutes.
Toss the squash mixture and 1/2 cup of the parmesan with the pasta.
Transfer to buttered 9 x 13 dish. If the mixture is still very thick, don’t hesitate to add a few more tablespoons of pasta water.
Combine the bread crumbs with the remaining parmesan and top the pasta. Drizzle the remaining olive oil evenly over the casserole.
Bake until brown, about 10-15 minutes.
When Andrew is returning for his third helping of squash, even after I admitted the dish was purely vegetable, you know it’s a tasty dish for all palettes. Proven safe for squash-phobics! The amount of cheese is minimal, but selecting a good quality cheese adds tremendous flavor that makes it a convincingly cheesey entrée. This is one of my favorite dishes of the past year, I will be making it again very soon.
I have been eager to share this dish with you since the moment I cleared my plate. Click here for another, more recent, life-altering squash experience.
P.S. Upon the most recent enjoyment of this dish, we ate such marvelous asparagus, Andrew (who previously loathed asparagus) exclaimed, “I didn’t expect to love this!” To re-create, you’ll need:
ONE BUNCH OF ASPARAGUS
THE JUICE OF ONE FRESH LEMON
A SMIDGEN OF REAL BUTTER
Remove woody ends from asparagus–about three inches and cut the remaining stalk in half. If using jumbo asparagus, halve lengthwise as well for optimal caramelization. If using petite asparagus, simply cut stalks horizontally as pictured.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil (and a teeny tab of Real Butter) over medium-high, and sear the asparagus in two batches. Use a lid or pan to cover the asparagus briefly (about 30 seconds) to steam the asparagus as it sears. This caramelizes the natural sugars in asparagus and makes it so divine. But here’s the kicker:
Juice the entire lemon into the asparagus serving bowl/dish. Using tongs, transfer each batch of piping seared asparagus straight from the skillet to the lemon juice. Toss in the juice, and sprinkle with fresh cracked pepper and a pinch of coarse salt. The butter from the asparagus mingles with the lemon juice and creates a light brown sauce. Unforgettable.