Saturday, December 23, 2006

Stuffed Squash, with Ornaments

Perhaps I can blame the seasonal cocktail of excess sugar consumption, prolonged exposure to Christmas music and visions of days off work dancing in my head for inducing my recent streak of peculiar thoughts. Like this one, which came to me upon spotting some gem squash at the grocery store – “My, these look like Christmas ornaments. I should cook them for the holidays.” It was quickly followed by this idea, hatched while pulling into the driveway: “The pomegranates growing on our tree look like ornaments, too! I should concoct a holiday dish combining both “ornaments” – gem squash and pomegranates.

And so gem squash with pomegranate, pecan and parsley stuffing was born. My husband gave me a “you are crazy – you know that, right?” look as I hung my “ornaments” on a string of pine-branch garland for inspiration, and I began cooking.

Gem squash are a common vegetable in southern Africa, and, according to Jeanne at Cook Sister!, they are another one of those food items that South Africans in the Diaspora long for. I can see why. These dark-green globes are downright adorable, easily beating out butternut’s half-an-hourglass curve on the squash-attractiveness scale. They also cook quickly, sport a lively yellow-color flesh, and are ideal for filling with all manner of savory treats, from curry to rice pilaf to couscous to bread stuffing. You can also add chunks to lentil dhal.

A quick Web search revealed that pomegranate stuffing wasn’t an idea unique to me, although I would hazard a guess that these other cooks weren’t motivated to use pomegranate because it resembles a Christmas ornament. I drew bits from these recipes and combined them with parts of Nic’s vegetarian stuffing recipe to create my own pomegranate stuffing.

Mark may have smirked at my “ornaments,” but he had nothing but compliments for the final stuffed gem squash dish. The pomegranate seeds added a crunchy texture and tart bite to the stuffing, while the flavors of baked squash, sage, and pecan evoked memories of Christmases past. His verdict? “Tastes like the holidays.”

Gem Squash with Pomegranate, Pecan and Parsley Stuffing
Serves 6 as a side dish

6 gem squash
2 teaspoons, plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
1 small onion, diced
¼ cup celery, diced
¼ cup fresh parsley, minced
2 teaspoons fresh sage, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup pomegranate seeds, plus extra for garnishing
¼ cup raisins
¼ pecans, chopped
3½ cups bread, cubed
½ cup vegetable broth

Preheat your oven to 350°F/175°C. Slice the top off each squash and scoop out all of the seeds. Use 2 teaspoons of the olive oil to coat the inside cavities of the squash; sprinkle the salt inside, too. Cover the squash bottom with its lid and place on a lightly-greased baking sheet.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a fry pan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, parsley, sage, salt and pepper, and stir. Sauté for 5 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.

In a large bowl combine the onion mixture, pomegranate seeds, raisins, pecans and bread cubes. Pour in the vegetable broth and stir carefully until all the bread cubes are moistened (adding more broth, if necessary). Place the stuffing in a lightly-greased, medium-size baking dish and cover with aluminum foil.

Put both the baking sheet with the squash and the baking dish with the stuffing into the oven at the same time. Bake for 20 minutes. Take the aluminum foil off of the stuffing and check the squash to see if they need to be basted with more olive oil. Return both items to the oven and cook for another 20 minutes. The squash should be soft, but still holding its shape, and the bread in the stuffing should look a bit crunchy.

To serve, fill each squash with the bread stuffing. Any additional stuffing can be served alongside the squash. Use any extra pomegranate seeds as garnish.

This post is an entry in Holiday Cooking with Herbs, a special holiday edition of Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by the amazing Kalyn at Kalyn’s Kitchen. I’ve intended to participate in Kalyn’s landmark food blog event ever since I started Field to Feast, and I’m glad the holidays finally inspired me to take the plunge!


Kalyn said...

Very fun idea. In Utah these are called "8-ball squash" because they're about the size of a pool ball.

Kalyn said...

Ok, I guess I stand corrected because after I read your post more carefully I see that these are quite different than what we call "8-ball zucchini." I've never seen any little squash like this with orange flesh. Most interesting.

Jeanne said...

Oh wow - what a fab recipe for my beloved gem squash!! I will have to see if I can get hold of some soon and try that. They are just so versatile and easy to serve - one is just the right amount for one person! I've just been home for the holidays, and seeing them in great big 10kg bags in the supermarkets made me yearn to move back to South Africa!