With Thanksgiving still on the brain, I want to talk about another fall squash dish I recently prepared and enjoyed (especially since it was oddly fall-like outside yesterday!).
Now, I’m not a huge squash fan. It’s strictly a flavor preference; squashes like acorn and butternut just have this flavor about them that I don’t like. I can’t even say that it’s bitter or sour or anything like that because it’s not. I think it’s because, when I was a child, we used to eat these frozen blocks of pureed squash and I found it to be the most repulsive thing ever (sorry Mom). And I was a vegetable eater! So it’s not like I was picky or anything, but we had a rule in our house that you had to eat everything on your plate, so that just ruined the taste of squash for me.
There are a few squashes I do enjoy, though. Carnival squash has a great texture and flavor I really like. It has a firmer flesh than most squashes and is a little bit fibrous, but once it’s baked, it also has a slight creaminess to the actual squash — which, in my opinion, if it mimics cream in its texture, then it can match well with a fatty food because cream itself is a fatty food. The flavor of carnival squash isn’t super light or super heavy, just a moderate in-between flavor profile, which is why – like I said before – I enjoy pairing it with fatty products (which, for me, means meats like pork belly or sausage).
RECIPE for STUFFED CARNIVAL SQUASH
1 medium-large carnival squash
8 oz. pork belly
1 small sweet potato
1 small celery root, peeled
1 medium red pepper
2 ears of corn, shucked and washed
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 piece of star anise
¼ tsp chipotle flakes
2-3 Tbsp raw sunflower seeds
2-4 oz. smoked Gouda, shredded
**this dish could easily be made completely vegetarian by removing the pork belly; it can also be made vegan by removing the Gouda or swapping it with a vegan-friendly alternative.
Cut the carnival squash in half and scoop out the seeds and pulp but not the flesh. Lightly oil the squash, sprinkle with salt, and place face down (skin side up) on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes (you want it to be just fork tender).
While the squash is baking, prepare your squash filling by medium dicing the pork belly, sweet potato, and celery root; small dicing the red pepper; cutting the corn off the cob; and tossing the sunflower seeds in a little bit of olive oil and salt and roasting until light brown.
Render the pork belly until crispy. Halfway through rendering, throw the star anise, garlic, and chipotle in with the pork belly. Before adding your vegetable mix, be sure to remove the star anise (it can quickly overpower a dish if you’re not careful). Sautee until just tender to the bite. Since you’re going to be baking the whole mix, you want to pull it a little earlier so they don’t overcook.
Take a fork or spoon and scoop the carnival squash out of its shell. Cut into rough cut chunks (roughly the same size as the other vegetables) and toss together with the vegetables and Gouda cheese. Scoop the whole mix back into the shell.
Bake for another 15-20 minutes at 350 until it’s nice and hot in center. Before serving, sprinkle with the toasted sunflower seeds for crunch and enjoy!