Baby winter squashes stuffed with herby quinoa, toasted almonds and ricotta salata cheese.
This recipe was featured in How I Am Trying to Forgive Myself and Clean Out My Fridge (Sort Of) in my occasional blog Random Acts of Deliciousness.
4 or 5 baby winter squashes such as butternut (pictured) or pumpkin
Coarse salt and ground black pepper
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
1/2 cup carrot that has been diced small
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups salted chicken stock
1 Tablespoon za'atar (see notes)
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups slivered almonds
3/4 cup minced fresh parsley
3/4 cup scallions that have been sliced thin
1/4 cup minced mint leaves
About 1/2 cup shredded or crumbled ricotta salata or feta
A few extra herb leaves for garnish
1. Prep the squashes like this:
For butternut squash, you'll need to cut off and discard the stem. For baby pumpkins or other squashes of a similar shape, you can just slice the top off keeping the stem intact (so it can work like a lid on the finished squashes).
For butternut squash, cut lengthwise into halves. For pumpkin/similar, cut in half horizontally through the middle, or cut the top off as described above.
Use a spoon to scrape out the strings and seeds. (You can save the seeds to toast like pumpkin seeds!)
Brush the squashes with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Set them on a baking sheet in a single layer, cut sides up. Lay aluminum foil loosely over them.
2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit with the rack in the middle position. Warm 1 Tablespoon of oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the carrots and saute for 3 minutes. Add the onions and saute for another 5 minutes or so, until soft. Add the quinoa, chicken stock, za'atar and red pepper flakes and turn the heat to high. Put the lid askew until it just begins to boil (about a minute), then scrape down the sides, turn the heat to low and put the lid on. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy.
3. While the quinoa is cooking, put the pan of squashes, covered with foil, in the preheated oven. Roast for about 25-35 minutes, until soft enough that a knife slides easily through the flesh, but still retaining their shape.
4. Put a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add the almonds. Toss them occasionally as they become a toasty, golden brown, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat.
5. When all the liquid has been absorbed by the quinoa, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the almonds, followed by the parsley, scallions and mint.
6. When the squashes have finished cooking, arrange them on a serving platter. While they are still hot, add 1-2 teaspoons of cheese to each squash, followed by large spoonfuls of the quinoa mixture to form a rounded mound in each squash. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze a little juice over each squash, then top with herb leaves.
I garnished these squashes with basil leaves for the picture, but you should use parsley or mint. I didn't plan ahead and save enough extra leaves for the garnish, and they looked so sad and plain through the camera without it - so I grabbed the basil. But really, you should plan ahead and do things the right way.
This recipe calls for za'atar (sometimes spelled zahtar), which is a really great dried herb mix common in the Middle East. I'll include a link to buy it on Amazon, in case you can't find it locally.
I made this with baby butternut and blue hokkaido squashes (shaped like baby pumpkins). But if your baby squashes are a different size or shape, cooking time may vary of course. In fact, there is nothing stopping you from making this dish with a full-sized pumpkin or other squash if you feel so inclined! So go forth - just keep an eye on things and use your own judgment about when they are done.
This recipe makes lots of quinoa filling - probably more than you need if you are using the same little squashes I used. But in case yours are a different size, I left the proportions generous for you. Of course, you can eat the leftovers on another day - maybe mixed with greens in a salad?