Updated Sunday, November 18, 2012 at 07:01 AM
It's increasingly common for one or more at the holiday table to be a vegetarian. It is less than ideal for the host to adopt the attitude of "Let them eat sides."
Here's a vegan entree that's perfect for Thanksgiving, especially for those who are not into the fake meat, tofurkey scene. Stuffed delicata squash is a rich, flavorful, elegant dish that goes beautifully with many of the usual Thanksgiving sides.
It's a seasonal food that adds brightness and color to your plate. It's easy to put together, and the whole thing can be done in advance and reheated at the last minute.
The stuffing is flexible and can accommodate many dietary needs. For a gluten-free version, sub out the farro with cooked brown rice and be sure to use a wheat-free tamari. For those with nut allergies, replace the nuts with crumpled tempeh.
If you are serving this dish to nonvegans, you can grate a little Parmesan cheese over the top just before serving. Also, as mentioned in the notes, you can add a little heat with some dried chili or some citrus notes with grated orange. The delicata boats add focus to the plate, creating a main dish feel that won't get lost in mounds of sides.
One of the beauties of delicata squash (and many other thin-skinned squash) is that you can eat the skins! They're delicious and add a little texture to the dish.
Delicata Squash Stuffed with Mushrooms, Farro, Pecans and Dried Cranberries
2 delicata squash
1 large yellow onion, chopped into medium dice
2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
8 ounces white mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
½ cup finely chopped pecans
1 cup cooked farro (see recipe below or follow package instructions)
½ cup dried cranberries
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup mixed fresh herbs, minced very fine (4 tablespoons parsley, 2 tablespoons sage and 2 tablespoons rosemary is a good combo.)
A little oil for brushing
Smoked paprika for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the delicata in half lengthwise and carefully scoop out the seeds to make four long "boats."
If the boats are too wobbly, take a very thin slice off the bottom so they'll sit flat. Brush with oil and place in the oven and roast until they are soft and just starting to char a little, about 30-40 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, saute the onion in the grapeseed oil until it softens and just starts to turn brown. While the onions are cooking, clean the mushrooms and chop them somewhat finely (into chickpea-sized pieces.)
When the onions are ready, raise the heat and add the mushrooms all at once. Spread them out so they make as much contact with the hot pan as possible. You may need a little more oil at this point. When the mushrooms start to take on some color, stir them around a bit until they are browned and cooked through.
Turn off the heat and stir in the minced garlic. There should be enough heat left in the pan to start to cook the garlic. After about a minute, add the soy sauce, which should deglaze the pan, again with any residual heat.
If the pan has cooled too much, put a low flame underneath and scrape the bottom for any browned bits. When the pan is dry and the soy sauce absorbed, add the farro, nuts and dried cranberries, and stir to combine.
Taste for seasonings. It should be salty enough from the soy sauce, but be sure to add several grindings of pepper.
Stir in half of the fresh herbs and taste, adding more herbs or pepper as needed. Remove the delicata boats from the oven, leaving the oven on. Using a soup spoon, fill the boats with the farro mixture, pressing lightly to pack them full and mounding them slightly. Return boats to the oven to heat everything through, about 8 to 10 more minutes.
Place on a serving platter and sprinkle with remaining herbs and optional smoked paprika, and serve hot.
You will probably have some stuffing left over. You can serve it on the side in a bowl or reheat it the next day as a part of the leftover feast.
Toasted and Cooked Farro
I recommend Anson Mills farro piccolo, which can be found at many markets or bought online at ansonmills.com.
1 cup farro piccolo
1 bunch dark greens: collard, kale or broccoli raab (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Spread the dry farro on a sheet pan and toast it until a little brown, about 10 minutes. Toasting the farro will enhance the flavor.
Coarsely chop the dark greens, if using. In a medium saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil and add the greens. Cook over high heat for 5 to 8 minutes, drain and set aside.
Combine the toasted farro with 2 ½ cups salted water in the saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. The cooking time will vary according to the variety of farro, whether there is some or all of the husk still on, and how long ago the farro was harvested. Drain the farro.
• Be sure your dried cranberries aren't too sweet. They are there to counter the sweetness of the fried onions and squash.
• You can use other nuts besides pecans, such as walnuts or hazelnuts or a mixture of the three.
• I find that the flavors are complex enough here, making fancy mushrooms a bit of a waste, but if you want to splurge a little, you could try making this with fresh shiitake.
• The fresh herbs are important to add brightness to this rich, savory dish. Dried herbs can be used (such as a teaspoon or two of dried sage and thyme) if fresh aren't available.
• The delicata squash can be roasted and the filling made a day or two in advance. To serve, reheat the squash in a 350-degree oven and the filling in a pan on the stove. Stuff the squash and return to the oven to reheat if necessary. Finish with a final sprinkling of herbs.
• Toasting and cooking the farro according to the recipe above will produce a nutty, chewy grain.
• You can also use 1 cup of cooked brown rice instead of the farro.
• If you like a little heat, crumble in a dried chili. Or, to add a little citrus kick, grate the zest of half an orange into the stuffing before filling the boats.
Delicata Squash Stuffed with Mushrooms, Farro, Pecans and Dried Cranberries.