Okay, so I know this is my highly professional personal site, and maybe recipes don’t belong here, but this is my life, this is my site, and dammit, I’m just going to post whatever I want (at least until our family blog is up and running). This recipe – trust me, it’s too good to share, Mr. FancyRecruiterGuy. So let’s close our inboxes for an hour or two and do some cooking.

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A few years back, I was on a mad quest for a fall-loving, flavor-packing, autumn dinner that would be a foodie’s dream. I wanted it to be relatively nutritious, crazy stupid yummy, and of course, as frugal as my desire for artisan goat cheese would allow.

Behold, the holy grail of fall dinner recipes. It’s flexible, it’s fool proof, it’s tasty (toddler AND husband approved), and secretly, it’s pretty nutrient-packed. But who cares, let’s get to the bacon.

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It may not look like much (mostly because I’m not much of a photographer), but this dish packs in protein, calcium, healthy fats, magnesium, B vitamins, folate – you name it.  While squash is good for you, it gets old just eating roasted with stuff in it, so here we have the culminations of my frustration with trying to put this nutritious, abundant, affordable winter produce to work.

All of the ingredients in this recipe are interchangeable, so if you’re paleo, gluten-free, vegetarian, Whole 30 – you name it, you can make this in a way that follows your dietary rules, and still kicks boring casserole butt. The only thing I would be cautious about messing with too much is the type of cheese you use – soft goat cheese is generally the best, mozzarellas and cheddars are going to be a bit cringe-worthy in this dish. Also, stay away from substituting watery squashes like yellow and zucchini, the combination won’t win you over here.

 

Autumn Casserole

Total cooking time: 1.5 – 2 hours

Oven 375º

Ingredients:

2 sweet potatoes

1 acorn squash

1 red October/Kuri squash

1 butternut squash

1 lb. mild sausage

1/2 c chopped walnuts

4 oz. soft goat cheese (smoked gouda is also very good here)

grapeseed oil

salt and pepper

Bourbon syrup (recipe follows)

 

  1. Preheat your oven to 375º. Remove the stems from your squash, halve, and remove the seeds and stringy bits of pulp – give them to your chickens (note: must have chickens). Place the halves on baking sheets or in casserole dishes, flesh side up.
  2. Lightly oil, salt, and pepper the squash (it’s okay if it pools up in the belly of the squash, just try to get a bit on the edges as well).
  3. Wash your sweet potatoes really well, and put them in a dish as well – no oil or anything needed.
  4. Put everything in the oven for 45-60 minutes, or until you can cut the squash with the edge of a spoon, and the sweet potatoes are soft to the touch.
  5. While the squash and potatoes are cooking, it’s time to cook the sausage – throw it in a skillet on medium-high heat until cooked through. Add seasonings if you like, but go easy on the garlic. A bit of fresh sage adds a nice touch.
  6. Drain the sausage and set aside to cool.
  7. When your squash and potatoes are done, pull them from the oven and allow them to cool plenty, so you don’t burn your hands handling them.
  8. Once everything has cooled down a bit, grab a big spoon, and start scraping the flesh of the squash out of the skins. Once you’ve got it all, chop it up into coarse, bite-sized pieces, and put it in a large bowl.
  9. Peel the sweet potatoes (I usually just cut the tips off and peel with my fingers), and chop them and put them in the same bowl. Add the walnuts. Scoop small flecks of the goat cheese out, and add it to the mix.
  10. Gently stir it all together (we don’t want a paste to form), and put it all in an oiled, large casserole dish. Drizzle the bourbon syrup over the top (if desired), and put in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until warm and fragrant again.
  11. Serve warm, with stretchy pants.

Bourbon Syrup

Ingredients:

1/2 c light brown sugar

1/2 c water

1/4 c bourbon straight whiskey

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp cloves

1/8 tsp allspice

1/8 tsp ginger

 

  1. Combine the brown sugar and water in a small saucepan, and heat while stirring over medium heat until combined and sugar has dissolved.
  2. Add bourbon and spices, whisk well, and allow to come to a gentle simmer for 3-5 minutes.
  3. Cool and enjoy.

 

Substitution suggestions

Like I said before, this recipe is not finicky at all, so if something in here isn’t your liking, here are a few suggestions for what you can swap them out with:

  • sausage – Omit entirely, or use chopped bacon, or even cubed ham. I feel like pork in general is ideal here though, it adds a nice combination of sweet and salty to the mix.
  • goat cheese – Smoked gouda is my favorite stand in, but you can also use cream cheese in a pinch.
  • bourbon syrup – Omit entirely, or use maple syrup or honey in its place
  • walnuts – Pecans are more expensive but definitely more delicious.
  • squash – You can really use any combination you prefer – I often omit the sweet potatoes and just add more squash myself. In addition to acorn, butternut, and Kuri, buttercup and sugar wart pumpkin make tasty additions as well.

Heating Up Leftovers

Given the odd textures in this dish, it can be a little strange to reheat, and tends to dry out in the oven, so when I reheat leftovers I usually just throw a bit of bacon grease or cooking oil into my cast iron skillet and plop a big spoonful of the casserole in.

The bottom will get crispy and caramelize a bit, and then I just flip it and chop it around a bit with a metal spatula with a nice, straight edge on it.

Why Grapeseed Oil?

This may seem like a random oil to choose, but ultimately, my use of grapeseed oil here stems not just from a flavor preference, but primarily a health concern. A lot of people reach for olive oil as a baking oil, but the fact of the matter is that when olive oil is heated past 320º, the structure of the oil starts to break down and release carcinogens into your food, so it’s really only good for low temp cooking.

Grapeseed oil, in contrast, has a smoke point of 420º, so it’s generally good for baking just about anything. I’m starting to see it on store shelves more and more, but we use it so much here, we generally just buy this big gallon jug from Amazon.

If all else fails and you just can’t see yourself loving grapeseed oil, the next best thing is lard, or bacon grease. The smoke point of this natural fat is 375º, so it’s great for baking, adds a pleasant flavor to food, and is a natural by-product of what many people have for breakfast anyway. I keep a grease catcher like this above my stove and save the grease from our side pork, in addition to rendering lard from pork fat that I buy from the local butcher shop.