There is something supremely satisfying about consuming an entire dish, including, well, the dish itself. Presenting food in food, or edible vessels, is not only efficient and no-waste, but it’s often highly decorative.
Certain foods lend themselves to standing in for a bowl or a container. A prime example is winter squash. These hardy vegetables have a hard, tough skin or shell that often gives way to vibrant, vitamin- and antioxidant-rich flesh. When the squash is halved and seeded, then roasted in the oven, the outer shell softens yet retains its shape, while the flesh becomes tender and sweet, thanks to ample natural sugars. As a result, the half becomes a whole meal when stuffed with grains, such as rice and bulgur, or protein-rich quinoa seeds. The stuffing is versatile and can be spiced and enhanced with other ingredients, such as sauteed aromatics (onion, celery, garlic), dried fruit, nuts, cheese or ground meat.
There are a number of squashes that love to be stuffed, including butternut, acorn, sweet pumpkin and kabocha. If the squash is small, you can serve it with its top as a lid — or if it’s very large, you can quarter it and spoon the filling over the center, relying on the dinner plate to catch the overflow. No matter how you cut it, your stuffed edible vessel will look stunning and taste delicious.
Stuffed Squash With Quinoa and Goat Cheese
2 acorn squashes, halved horizontally
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 small yellow onion, chopped, about 1/4 cup
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon thyme
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 cups prep-cooked quinoa (or wild rice or bulgur)
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley leaves, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese, divided
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush the squash flesh with oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange on a baking tray lined with parchment, cut sides down, and roast until tender, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
While the squashes are roasting, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add the orange juice to deglaze the pan.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the quinoa, cranberries, nuts, parsley, orange zest, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if desired. Gently stir in 1/4 cup goat cheese.
Fill the squash halves with the quinoa mixture.
Arrange the squashes on a parchment-lined baking tray and top with the remaining goat cheese. Transfer to the oven and cook for 12 to 15 minutes to heat through and soften the cheese. Serve warm, garnished with parsley.
Lynda Balslev is a San Francisco Bay Area cookbook author, food and travel writer and recipe developer.