Roasted Squash stuffed with Mushroom + Spinach Risotto
A creamy, dairy-free risotto with earthy mushrooms and spinach presented in a roasted, salty halved squash. This gluten free and vegan meal is hearty and filling, and looks beautiful as an entrée for your favourite herbivore at the holiday table.
Let's talk about hosting for a moment. For some, I know the idea of having friends and family fill your home and serving them a beautiful meal is a true effort of love. For others, I think the whole thing might lean more towards duty or obligation. Add to that the need to sometimes accommodate various dietary needs, and I suppose the act of love that preparing a meal for your favourite people is could become somewhat lost in the worry or stress of it all. My personal take on making a meal for others that is by accommodating everyone's needs, that I am putting my feelings into action - ensuring that I have a meal full of delicious vegan food for my sister, something on the more traditional and decadent side for my father, gluten and dairy-free items so that another sister and I are satiated - means that everyone around the table can eat freely without worry. Of course, it helps when the majority of the food meets the requirements for everyone because the alternative (making something different for each person) would just be too much. I like to present food that one wouldn't automatically think is "vegan" or "healthy" or "gluten free", but rather looks beautiful, seasonal, fresh and nourishing. The fact that it also ticks off those other boxes is more of a happy afterthought for my guests, which pleases me to no end.
On the other hand, I am acutely aware that not everyone feels this way about hosting to serve their guests according to needs or preferences. For some, I wonder if that is driven by discomfort with preparing foods that aren't within their usual repertoire. I absolutely can appreciate that as I was once in that place too, when I was first diagnosed with my own food intolerances and had to change the way I shopped and the foods I ate. I've certainly been the guest that has needed to bring my own food, and that's fine. As my extended family and friends have grown familiar with my needs, they have become truly gracious and generous hosts and for that I am so blessed. For others (and I assume that this group is probably the minority), it seems like the obligation of hosting is paramount and that perhaps breeds an unwillingness to depart from one's own traditions. As an example, I was at a gathering recently where someone was complaining that her vegan niece and niece's boyfriend, as well as a Jewish cousin, were attending a dinner she was having and it was clear that her menu was not appropriate for those guests. Trying to be helpful (but also wanting to come to the defence of her guests who I know aren't trying to be difficult to serve), I suggested that she just 'amp up' her vegetable side dishes for those guests. Her reply was less than responsive (along the lines of "I don't care, they can bring their own food!" while her boyfriend piped in with "Let's make pork tenderloin!"). Ah, well...
As Christmas is practically upon up, I want to offer you a dish that suits everyone and feels festive, which you might consider serving at your own holiday gathering. I think my vegan sister would be equally as happy as my traditional father, because this hearty dish features roasted squash, earthy sautéed mushrooms, and a creamy (but dairy-free) risotto. Familiar foods that are pretty easy to prepare, and are presented beautifully. It's size can be varied according to whether it's served as an entrée - in that case, served a halved squash - or, a side dish (for that, serve a quarter).
This past weekend became a bit busier than I had hoped and therefore, this will be my last post before Christmas. As has been my mantra this December, I'm trying to temper the pressure and stress that the holidays can sometimes entail with good self-care, rest, and quality time with with those closest to me. I hope you're taking good care of yourself, too!
Roasted Squash stuffed with Mushroom + Spinach Risotto
Serves 2 as an entrée or 4 as a side dish, and the entire recipe can be doubled easily if you have more to serve.
1 small or medium-sized red kuri squash
avocado, macadamia, or coconut oil
2 cups (500 ml) light, good-tasting broth
2 tsp plus 1 tsp olive oil, divided
1 small shallot, diced
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp white wine, divided
1/2 cup arborio rice
1 package (8 oz) cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
black pepper, ground
1 cup fresh baby spinach, chopped
1/4 tsp nutritional yeast (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wash the squash, and cut lengthwise in half. Scoop out the stringy pulp and seeds. Rub the cut side of the squash with the high heat-tolerant oil of your choice (avocado, macadamia, or coconut), and sprinkle generously with salt. Place the squash cut side down in a baking dish.
Roast the squash for 15-20 minutes in the oven, enough to cook the squash until tender enough to give when pricked with a sharp knife, but be careful not to overcook it (you'll be putting the squash back in the oven once it's stuffed with risotto).
Heat a medium or large frying pan over high heat. When the pan is hot, add the mushrooms with a 1/4 tsp sea salt and a good pinch of black pepper. When the mushrooms begin to release their water, stir and then add 1 tbsp white wine and allow the mushrooms to absorb it. Add 1 tsp olive oil, stir well, and reduce the heat to medium low. Continue to cook until the mushrooms are well-browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Meanwhile (as you roast the squash and prepare the mushrooms), warm the broth in a small sauce pan and keep hot.
In a medium or large frying pan (use the same one you prepared the mushrooms in), heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced shallot and cook for a few minutes, until softened but not browned. Add the arborio rice, and stir to coat with the oil. Toast the rice for 2 minutes (add a touch more olive oil if needed). Add 1/4 cup of white wine, and cook until the wine is absorbed. Add a half cup of hot broth, bring to a simmer, and stir well. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until mostly all absorbed while stirring frequently (about 5 minutes).
A half cup at a time, continue adding the hot broth and cooking until mostly absorbed while stirring often, before adding more broth. When the last of the broth is added and beginning to absorb, stir in the chopped spinach. Continue to cook and stir. Add the sautéed mushrooms, and stir through. Remove from heat. Stir through 1/4 tsp nutritional yeast, if using.
Scoop the risotto into the roasted squash halves, packing the risotto into a mound in each squash. Return the squash to the baking dish, and roast in the oven for another 10-15 minutes.
A halved squash is a large portion, appropriate for an entrée. If serving alongside many other dishes or if using as a side dish, carefully cut the squash in half and serve a quarter squash per person. When red kuri squash is well-cooked, it's skin is tender enough to eat but alternatively, the risotto and roasted squash flesh can be eaten, leaving the skin behind.
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