It’s time for a better casserole at your holiday table. - Something Edible
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Some food, some drink.

It’s time for a better casserole at your holiday table.

It’s time for a better casserole at your holiday table.

Abstract: There's a reason that casseroles are popular for large holiday meals: A good casserole epitomizes comfort food, and is a total do-ahead which takes (some of the) stress off the cook. Both producer and consumer win. Unfortunately, ever since condensed cream-of-whatever soup was invented, casserole quality has been in steady decline. This holiday season, I decided I wasn't going to allow my guests to settle for some crap-tastic, sodium-saturated, can-dumping fest. With a focus on using fresh ingredients, I've formulated a Southwest-style butternut squash casserole with a spicy jalapeno kick that's chock-full of veggies. Green bean casserole, please step aside.

Purpose: This last Thanksgiving, I was frantically thumbing thru cookbooks and surfing the series of tubes to find a casserole that I'd be happy to serve at the main event. As I was contemplating my options, I had started to zero-in on a butternut squash application. I know what you're thinking, "Give it a rest already," but I still had plenty from that final harvest right after the freeze and the buggers seem to keep forever in the basement. Sure, just-off-the-heat roasted squash is the best, but that doesn't work for large meals that need to stay warm while everyone gets thru the chow line and back for seconds.  It was this reason, along with the significant benefit of a being do-ahead, that made me ardent about doing a casserole.

I did happen to find a couple of recipes that intrigued me, but they either weren't quite what I wanted in the texture department, or didn't have enough of the flavors that I was looking for to please the crowd I knew I was serving to. So, loaded with ideas (and few gin and tonics) I decided to wing it.

Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -

Squash Roast

  • 1/4 tsp fennel seed ground
  • 1/4 tsp ancho chile powder
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb butternut squash peeled and cut into 1/2 in cubes (The seedless end of a big squash is usually enough.)
  • The Veggie Sweat

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper small dice
  • 1 green bell pepper small dice
  • 1/2 sweet onion small dice (Pick a big one.)
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • The Binder

  • 1 jalapeno roasted, seeded, and diced (Or two if you want a bit more heat.)
  • 14 3/4 oz cream-style corn (That's one can.)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (Reduced-fat is ok; fat-free probably isn't.)
  • 4 oz pepper-jack cheese grated (approximately a cup)
  • The Mother of all Casserole Toppings

  • 2 Tbsps butter melted
  • 1/2 cup panko
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese microplaned (about 1 oz)
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika

  • Preheat oven to 450F.
    Toss the squash with oil and seasoning and spread out on a sheet pan with the one or two jalapenos. Roast squash and chile(s) for 15 minutes. The squash my be slightly under-cooked, and that's ok. You can turn off the oven now. Move the chiles to a sealed container for a good sweat, and let the squash cool while handling the veggie sweat.

    For the veggie sweat, add oil, garlic, bell peppers, onions, garlic, salt & pepper to a cold non-stick pan over medium heat.  Sweat for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If things start to think about browning, turn down the heat as necessary. Set aside to cool a bit when the onions are translucent and the bell pepper is slightly soft.

    Seed and dice jalapeno(s) and combine with the rest of the ingredients for the binder. Stir in the roasted squash and the veggie sweat and spoon the mix into a 3 quart casserole dish. Stir together topping ingredients and sprinkle over the top. You can now bake your casserole, or if you're doing ahead, cover and refrigerate.

    When it's time to heat it up, bake uncovered at 375F for 45 mins.  If cooking without the stint in the fridge, 375F for 30 minutes will do. 


    • I know I've said this before: Breaking down raw butternut squash can be a bitch. If you need a refresher course, check out this previous post.
    • All the knife-work involved here may seem a bit laborious, but it's the knife-work that really makes this casserole. Regular-sized bits make for even-cooking and ensure that this casserole's texture isn't equivalent to a big ol' vat of mush.
    • Don't let those aromatic veggies brown. We're just trying to get the bell pepper soft, and the onion translucent. You might have to wheel down that burner to a lower setting as they cook.
    • Don't neglect to strip your roasted jalapeno(s) of seeds and pith. That raw heat will totally nuke the other layers of flavor you've worked to build here. Oh yeah, and you gotta remember the sweat so that those skins peel easy.
    • The seasoning for the butternut squash makes more than enough; don't feel like you gotta use it all. If you think you under-seasoned, taste a bit when it's done; the roasted squash's flavor should hold up sans the rest of the casserole. If you did indeed under-estimate, just add a little more after the roasting's done.
    • A quick spritz of cooking spray around the walls of your casserole dish will help to ensure an easier cleanup.
    • There are very few dishes that couldn't use at least a short rest before serving. I like to wait about ten minutes before dishing this casserole out so it's easier to portion. I'm not chasing piping-hot mess with a spoon around the bottom of the dish.
    • What? No smoked paprika? Well, why not? There isn't a supermarket out there now that doesn't carry it. I live in the boonies and I know of at least two, maybe three places that I can pick it up. The smokiness of that chile dust covering each morsel of panko is a flavor force to be reckoned with.

    Results: I won't pretend this casserole is easier to make than something of the green bean casserole's ilk. It is however, much tastier and isn't at all forgettable. For those that might get their panties in a bunch about ol' reliable being knocked off the menu, I say just make both and see what happens. Butternut squash's sweet and earthy flavor companioned to the kick of chile, and tempered by that sour creamy/pepper-jacky goodness makes for a cornucopia of flavors and textures in every bite. And yeah; I did have to open a can for this joint, but I rather thought the use of creamed corn as a binder and flavor medium was a much more sensible choice than using a mess of eggs and/or a can of condensed soup. Really, go look at the labels: Fewer calories, waaaay less fat, and even less sodium vs the soup (if you're forced to care about that sort of stuff).

    My Thanksgiving crowd wasn't really raised on squash (or fresh vegetables for that matter) so I assumed going in that that is would be a hard sell. With that in mind, I felt I had to fix something that I'd be ok eating with my leftover turkey for at least a few days. Much to my surprise, not a lot was left, and what was leftover was actually spoken for. Around holidays where so much emphasis is put on forgetting about what's in a dish as long as it tastes great, it makes one's chest swell with a little pride to be able to conceal four different kinds of vegetables in a casserole that holds it's own with everything else there is to choose from on the table. Suffice to say, we're making this one again at Christmas dinner.

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