This is comfort come-back food. As a dad trying to satisfy little kids, this is pretty much a shoe-in. It tastes great, and lasts two nights. Any dish that can walk out of the kitchen the second school night in a roll and make kids happy is a gift. So, from my ceramic heart to yours, I give you I Cannot Taste Any Butternut Squash Butternut Squash Casserole. It’s easy to make even if it’s parsimonious, even if it’s begun a night before it’s cooked and possibly upstaged by haute cuisine. I go big on Sunday night. After a marathon, I like to cook a rampage because it allows me to stay in the kitchen for hours grazing, drinking coffee, on my feet so I don’t cash out in a pile on the floor.
I live in the sticks and I can’t afford trips to the city to get good organics just now. That changes next week when my local farm collective dishes out its first delivery. Spoiler alert: rhubarb on the horizon.
I have made all types of casserole with duck, chorizo, chicken, Thanksgiving turkey, fresh caught jacks and reds, beef, pork, chicken, prosciutto, tuna, all manner of bittersweet vegetables and sharp and creamy cheeses. I’ve dipped into béchamel, eggs, rices, noodles, flours, toasts and crumbs. Casseroles are not cool. They’re metagrandma. They’re too free-form to be cool and cultivate antipathy from those who cherish precise gastronomics. It is the cavalier nature of a casserole which makes it so good. It reeks of memory and sentiment, a longing. It’s a simulacrum of distilled tradition, giving olfactionate oath to a family vow only you can understand. Casseroles are conjurings. They are not subject to such crude interpretations of value. A casserole is a happy accident that involves the pantry and the memories of your youth, a river of time caught within the slow heat of a sturdy vessel. It’s good things coming together, an aggregate of seasonal grows and larded hoarding. I happened to have these items lying around and I got busy.
Preparation – Night One
- Preheat oven 375
- 1 butternut squash – split long-wise, clean out seeds, rub with oil, salt and bake until tender.
[DIGRESSION] That’s right, you have to wait a whole night. Tonight is venison with Yukon gratin dauphinois, watercress, ramps, roasted red bell pepper, beurre blanc, followed with dessert of macerated pear with financier, drizzled with Cracker Jack syrup and topped screwpine foam foam (no recipe, sorry, I so suck, I no have job. You hire me, I cook long time, I cook buku, make you rich and fat. You gonna buy your clothes at TJ Maxx tomorrow if you try the citrus cream cold soup because I thicken it with duck fat and you can drink it with a candied rice paper straw crusted with basil seed and asam boi powder). After the squash is cooked, kick it to 425 for the dauphinois. That’s all you get. One step for Duck, You Sucka!
- Think about how easy the casserole will be. That will get you through the Duck, You Sucka! night. Put the squash away after it’s hit room temp. It’ll fall out of the skin. Rough chop it and put it in covered Pyrex. Refrigerate.
- I hate butternut squash.
Preparation – Night Two
- mirepoix – One onion, two stalk celery, four carrots. Peel and mince. Get them in a pot on the range, add salt and begin slow saute. Tell Lois to tell Michael to keep stirring it so it doesn’t stick.
- 1 cup brown rice
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup water
- 1 lb. pork chop, diced, tossed with s & p
- 2 tsp thyme, chopped
- 1/4 cup cottage cheese
- 1/4 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
- 8 oz. shredded sharp white cheddar cheese (one small brick)
- 1/3 stick of butter
- Three slices of toast. Make sure they’re cool before you chop or crumble. They’ll be drier that way.
- Handful of almond flour. Your hand is unique, so this is your legacy – or should I say handacy?
Two casserole dishes. One 9″ x 12″, one 8″ round. I can just fit both on one shelf in my bippity little oven. I drop the shelf down so they sit square in the middle.
Gather your army, lie in wait. When the sun peeks through the onions, begin marching. . Throw the rice in the mirepoix. Toast it a bit in the pan. Keep stirring! I’ll take you to roux, yet! Is that a wooden spoon? It should be. Channel the grandma, focus!
Use separate cutting board and bowl for pork. Put salt and pepper in bowl – I grind rough grey sea salt and peppercorns in a dark green marble mortar ‘n’ pestle because I’m a sorcerer – toss in bowl. Chop pork, add to bowl, turn with one hand until coated. Use clean hand to add almond flour. Coat evenly. Cover with casserole lid, set aside. Clean up proteins. Rice is done.
Add butter, water, and stock to rice. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes. While rice is working, begin prep on cold fill.
Shred cheddar cheese, refrigerate.
Cottage cheese in bowl. Add sour cream or creme fraishe. Add chopped butternut squash. Season with s & p. Squish it all together in your hands. That’s disgusting. Rinse hands. Preheat oven to 450F/ 232 C
Rub olive oil on inside of casserole dishes. Clean up. I can’t stress how important it is to clean as you go. Manning a dish pit for an hour with a full belly is a horrible way to end a dining experience. Clean is calm. Keep the architecture on the plate, not in the sink.
Your rice is near. Chew a couple of grains. Make sure they’re basically al dente, not over-cooked.
Hidden ingredient: baby spinach! I fine chop baby spinach leaves and add to butternut squash, hiding it under a layer of green. I just don’t want it looking at me. The grass, she grow thick, Obadiah. Add floured pork to squash party. Add 1/2 of the bread crumbs. Stir with spoon.
Take seasoned rice – wow, that smells like victory eternal – and pour atop pork and squash. Stir everything for a few seconds, just enough to distribute fairly evenly. Pour quickly into casserole dishes. Cover dishes, put in oven. Cook for 30 minutes at 450 F/232 C.
This is when I would make a salad. I put a heap of spinach leaves on each plate. Done. Dry dishes, wash more dishes.
Drop temp to 375 F/ 190 C. Casseroles should be bubbling. Remove casserole dish lids, set aside. Sprinkle remainder of breadcrumbs over the casseroles. Cover with shredded cheddar. Put back into oven. Cook until cheese begins to brown slightly at edges, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven.
While they cool I get the kids ready for dinner, pour drinks, set table. Serve casserole atop spinach leaves. Baby loves it.
I can’t even taste the butternut squash, but I feel good knowing it’s there. I have thirds, which is unusual. Oh well, running.
I have wine with which to enjoy this, but I dinnae touch it. I had tea, instead.
I placed the smaller, untouched casserole in the fridge late that evening. I’ll serve it next night with steamed baby asparagus tossed in lemon butter.