Here’s the drill-du-norm for Thanksgiving with my family-in-law: Make safe side dish (read: nothing too spicy, nothing too colorful, and nothing too weird). Take said dish to dinner. Place said dish on the banquet table with the rest of the insipid dishes and pray to all the baby turkeys in heaven that other family members will eat said dish. Notice that said dish is going untouched. Gently encourage family members to try said dish. Smile on the outside, glower on the inside. Praise the few who tried the dish, and ask how they liked it. Smile on the outside, gloat on the inside. Sneak wine into coffee mug while Grandma’s back is turned. Repeat the following year.
A couple of years ago, however, I took a dish to Thanksgiving dinner that I just knew would be too out there: a lively mixture of roasted acorn squash (with the skin on?!), wild rice (grass seed?!), sage (again with the grass!), dried cherries (shriveled maraschinos?!) and toasted pecans (eh, OK…). Lo and behold – and much to my astonishment – the fam ate it up, and raved about how much they loved the dish, even commenting on how they liked the faint sweetness of the cherries. Really? Who’d-a-ever-thunk?
I imagine that some of you out there experience the same plight: Differences in culinary adventurousness, palates, generations, and backgrounds can make for an unusual – and sometimes bland – Thanksgiving feast. So here’s my idea: over these next couple of weeks leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, I’m going to provide you, lovely readers, with a recipe that I guarantee will fulfill your desire to bring something out of the ordinary to the table, while satisfying Uncle Rosco’s palate that doesn’t go much beyond potato chips and KFC. Let’s do this.
This recipe came to me after flipping through Whole Living magazine, a/k/a “Martha Stewart Goes All Green and, Like, Introspective”. There was an article on cooking with various squashes, and a recipe for acorn squash stuffed with wild rice and dried cherries caught my eye. Because I was looking for something crowd-friendly and portable, I thought that instead of stuffing halves of acorn squash with this lovely rice mixture, I could cube the squash and roast it, toss the squash with the wild rice stuffing, and mix it all together with a little parmesan cheese for a nice casserole.
A little freaked out that I left the squash skin on? Fret not! Acorn squash’s skin is thinner than other squashes, and when roasted properly, becomes soft, slightly sweet, and perfectly edible. The shallots, garlic and sage give the casserole a nice savory undertone, while the cherries and pecans add a sweet, almost candied element. And of course, nothing brings a casserole together better than buttery, salty Signore Parmigiano (none of that stuff from the green can, please).
Try this out on your family this year, and see what they think! They’re sure to thank you for expanding their horizons – and it may just become a staple at the Thanksgiving table every year. Enjoy!
Next week: What’s green, and round, and smells like feet? Not this batch, I promise!
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Wild Rice and Squash Casserole
2 small acorn squash, halved, seeded and chopped into 1″ cubes
2 Tbs. butter
2 small shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. dry rubbed sage
1 (6 oz.) box wild rice blend (seasoning packet removed)
1 3/4 c. water
1/2 c. dried cherries
1/2 c. pecans, chopped
1/2 c. parmesan cheese, grated, plus more for topping
olive oil, salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 450°. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the chopped acorn squash with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the squash are soft and beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, and add the shallots, garlic and sage, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the wild rice blend and 1 3/4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook until tender, about 25 minutes.
Remove the rice from the heat and fluff with a fork. Add the dried cherries and pecans. Carefully fold in the roasted acorn squash and 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese. Place rice and squash mixture in an 8”x8” baking dish, and top with more parmesan cheese. Bake at 450° for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the casserole is bubbling a little. Remove from the oven, and serve.
* If the above slideshow doesn’t load, you can view all the photos from this set on Flickr.