Quinoa and Winter Squash Stuffing
I am smitten with squash. Obsessed, really. My family is probably fortunate that we have such a small backyard garden, or I would be growing acres of squash – all 123 varieties of squash in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company catalog and then some. As Amy Goldman, author of “The Compleat Squash” would label me, I am a Cucurbitacean, through and through.
I’ve not always felt this way. For most of my life, all I ever knew about squash was the common store varieties: yellow crookneck summer squash, black beauty zucchini, table acorns, spaghetti squash. I don’t mean to sound elitist, but they just don’t excite me. I don’t want to admit this about a squash, but they’re pretty boring when it comes to flavor and appearance.
Then I discovered heirloom squash varieties. Holy moly, what a difference! These squash were bred for flavor, not shipping. My favorite summer squash, patisson panache jaune et vert, when picked small and lightly steamed, tastes as if it has been smothered in butter. And the “skin” on most heirloom summer squash? It is so delicate that you hardly realize it is there, in contrast to the thick, wax-like consistency of commercial varieties.
The real stars of heirloom squash varieties are the winter squash. They are incredibly diverse, ranging in size from a chicken’s egg to the monstrous pumpkins that capture the media’s attention at state fairs. They are colorful as well. Ask a child to color a squash for you in Australia, and they will likely color it blue, as those are the preferred varieties there. My girls would have a hard time choosing, as they have seen squash in almost every color of the rainbow (Do you know of a purple variety? That’s the only color we haven’t grown so far).
Many of the heirloom winter squash excel in flavor as well. The famous seedsman, James J.H. Gregory, called blue hubbards “the acme of perfection” of squash. If you find yourself adding brown sugar to your baked winter squash, you won’t need to do so with many of these varieties – the extra sweetness is already there through hundreds of years of selective breeding.
Texture is also incredibly important to eating – I never realized how much so until feeding two toddlers. Many people don’t eat squash because of the fibrous flesh found in most all store varieties. By growing your own heirlooms, you can grow winter squash that is both sweet and smooth.
My favorite winter squash (other than my blue hubbards, of course)? An Italian heirloom, butternut rugosa violina gioia. This is a Waltham butternut on steroids.
Rugosa, for the rough, blue-orange skin of the mature squash.
Violina, for its violin-like shape.
Gioia, the Italian word for “joy!” I can think of no better description for this squash. The bright orange flesh is incredibly sweet and meaty – no fibrous strings in these beauties!
Cooking with Winter Squash
My favorite way to eat winter squash, including butternut rugosa violina gioia, is straight-up, baked in the oven. No need to peel it, just cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and bake in the oven for about an hour at 375 degrees. Scoop out the flesh and enjoy. No brown sugar, no butter… Just smooth, heavenly-sweet squash.
If I really want to get fancy, like for Thanksgiving this past week, I enjoy making this gluten free stuffing, recently highlighted during my guest appearance on an episode of Friends Drift Inn (her recipe for butternut squash with sorghum and raspberries is DIVINE, by the way).
- ~8 cups butternut squash, diced (Waltham is fine, but butternut rugosa violina gioia preferred)
- ~2 cups zucchini, cubed (I like to use immature tromboncino squash – what is it about Italians naming squash after musical instruments?)
- 2 cups gluten free quinoa
- 1 sprig each of fresh thyme, rosemary, and sage
- 1 cup dehydrated persimmons, chopped (or use dried apricots)
- 1 cup dried cranberries (as of this date, Craisins are gluten free)
- 1 bunch fresh parsley
- 1 bunch fresh mint
- 1 bunch green onions
- 1 organic lemon
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Sea salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Begin boiling 4 cups water in a heavy-bottomed pot.
- Oil the bottom of two baking pans. Add butternut squash to one baking pan, add a little more olive oil, and stir to coat pieces in oil and distribute in a single layer. Repeat with the zucchini in the other pan. Season both to taste with sea salt and black pepper. Bake uncovered until fork-tender, about 20 minutes for the butternut squash and 15 minutes for the zucchini.
- While squash is baking, add quinoa to boiling water with fresh sprigs of thyme, rosemary, and sage. Return to boil, cover, and reduce heat to simmer. Cook 15 minutes.
- While squash and quinoa cook, chop the parsley and green onions, and tear the mint (to prevent browning).
- When quinoa cooking time is complete, remove from heat, add dried persimmons and cover for 5 minutes to allow quinoa to rest and persimmons to rehydrate.
- Combine cooked squash, quinoa, and persimmons into large serving bowl. Add cranberries, and ~1 cup each of the mint, parsley, and green onions.
- Zest lemon over the ingredients, then squeeze juice from lemon over all. Stir and combine ingredients thoroughly. Serve warm.