Monday, December 1, 2008

Love Dish: Butternut Squash and Apple Casserole

Well, several cities and 1500 miles later, we have safely returned from our Great Midwest Thanksgiving Tour. And I can I safely say I am officially Thanksgivinged out.

Not that I didn’t enjoy all that intensive cooking and feasting – that’s what I live for. And it was great to see both sets of parents and extended family, not only because I honestly like them, but because the newlywed “why-we-should-visit-my-family-and-not-yours” game is not actually as fun as it sounds. It's just that re-entry into everyday life is a lot more jarring following a 14-hour, drizzly, trafficky return road trip. So I'm thinking maybe Thanksgiving can be at our house next year.

Whining now concluded, allow me to offset my crankiness by sharing a dish I am especially thankful for each Thanksgiving – my mother’s butternut squash and apple casserole. She’s been making this since I can remember, since the days it seemed exotic to me for anything labeled a vegetable to go into a something labeled a dessert. But, as many of us are well aware nowadays, butternut squash lends a wonderfully creamy, autumnal sweetness to anything it’s paired with, making it a fine addition for any stop along a meal – dessert included.

Note: there are many butternut squash and apple casserole recipes floating around that call for simply cubing the squash, cubing the apples and tossing some brown sugar on top before baking. Ignore those. Yes, this recipe's a little more involved, but I'm betting it's the best butternut squash dish you've ever had. Really.

Butternut Squash and Apple Casserole
1 medium butternut squash, halved lengthwise
3-4 large Granny Smiths, or other good variety of baking apple
2 tbsp butter
1/8 cup sugar
Dash of pure vanilla extract, optional

For the topping:
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp butter

Preheat the oven to 400. Place the two squash halves, cut side up, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast in the center of the oven until a fork passes easily through the flesh, about 45 minutes to an hour.

While the squash is cooking, peel the apples, core them, and cut into smallish cubes. Heat 2 tbsp of butter in a large saute pan over medium high heat. When melted, add the apples and the sugar and saute, tossing occasionally, until the apples are softened, about 8 minutes. Set aside.

When the squash is done, remove from the oven and lower the heat to 350. Let the squash cool slightly before peeling off the skin. Mash flesh in a small bowl, adding a tablespoon or two of brown sugar if you think it needs to be a little sweeter. If you're a vanilla fan, add a dash of vanilla to the squash. Fold the apples into the squash and pour into a 9x9 buttered casserole dish.

In a small bowl, mix the topping ingredients together, using your fingers or a fork to incorporate the butter until you have a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle evenly over the squash and apples. Bake the casserole uncovered in the center of the oven for about 25 minutes, until heated through.

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