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~ Butternut Squash & Caramelized Apple Casserole~

IMG_3181Sunday was the first day of Fall.  Like clockwork, here in Central Pennsylvania, the temperatures have dropped to a chilly 40-50 degrees, and, even when the sun is shining bright, the breezes are brisk, and, Fall colors are starting to appear in our outdoor scenery.  It is:  sweater weather:  

IMG_2164All that is left from our vegetable gardens are butternut squash and pumpkins.  If I store them in a cool, dry place, both will keep nicely until Thanksgiving, so, unlike Summer vegetables, I don't have to scurry around looking for ways to process or preserve them.  I can enjoy them at my leisure, and, this week I've decided to show you two ways to enjoy my favorite Fall vegetable: butternut squash!

IMG_2901A bit about butternut squash: Sometimes referred to as "butternut pumpkin", when cooked, its deep-orange pulp has a creamy texture and a sweet nutty taste, which intensifies with proper storage.  This rock-hard, bowling-pin-shaped, vine-fruit is delicious roasted, steamed or sauteed, baked into casseroles, mashed like potatoes, pureed for soups, etc.

IMG_2904Butternut squash are available all year long, but at their peak from early Fall through Winter.  Choose those that feel heavy for their size. Those with the fattest necks and the smallest bulbs have the smallest seed cavities and the most pulp. They should have hard skin (no soft spots or mold) and no bruises, but a dark spot indicating where it rested while ripening is fine.

IMG_2746If you are new to preparing butternut squash, you will be astonished as to how solid they are. If you'd like an alternative to cutting off the pole ends with a large chef's knive, peeling away the tough flesh, muscleing your way to the center and scooping out the seeds prior to cooking it, read my post ~ How to Steam a Butternut Squash in the Crockpot~, by clicking on the Related Article link below!

IMG_2850It is the perfect method for cooking butternut squash to be used in soups, breads, muffins or my ~ Color Me Fall: An Autumn Butternut Squash Puree ~, which I served with roasted chicken on Sunday.  (It too can be found clicking on the Related Article link below.) Tonight, however, I'm hungry for pork chops, and I''m making one of my favorite butternut squash casseroles to go with them, so, sharpen up your chef's knife:

It's time to trim, peel, slice and soak the butternut squash:  

IMG_3083 IMG_3080~ Step 1. Using your favorite chef's knife, or a combination of a chef's knife and a paring knife, trim off the pole ends and stand the squash upright.  Slicing downward, IMG_3090peel away the flesh in thin layers, repeating if necessary in order to remove the green veins that run down the length of the squash.  

~ Step 2.  Slice the squash in half lengthwise.  Using an ordinary tablespoon thoroughly clean out the seed cavity.

~ Step 3.  Cut the squash into thin, 1/8"-1/4" slices.

IMG_3093~ Step 4.  In a large bowl place:

2  pounds sliced butternut squash

~ Step 5.  In a 1-cup measuring container whisk together:

1  cup whipping cream

1/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground ginger

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

IMG_31041/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

IMG_3099Add the cream mixture to the squash. Using two forks or two spoons, toss, like you would a salad, until the squash is evenly coated.  Cover and set aside while prepping the apples as follows:

It's time to peel, slice and caramelize some apples and raisins:

IMG_3106For the apples and raisins:

2  pounds peeled, cored and thinly sliced (1/8"-1/4") Granny Smith apples

8  ounces golden raisins

8 ounces salted butter (2 sticks)

2  tablespoons sugar

For topping casserole:

1/2  cup plain dry breadcrumbs

IMG_3118~ Step 1.  Prep the apples as directed.  Do not try to do this in advance and be inclined to toss them with lemon juice to prevent discoloring.  If some of the apples start to turn brown while you are working, worry not.  They are going to brown in the pan in a few minutes!

In a 12" skillet melt butter over low heat and stir in the the sugar.  Fold in the apples and raisins...

IMG_3142~ Step 2.  Increase heat to saute, stirring frequently, until the apples are turning golden brown and the raisins are plump, about 25-30 minutes.  Watch carefully during the last few minutes, as they can and will quickly go from browned to burned.

The mixture will look a little bit like hash browns.  Remove from heat and set aside about 10 minutes.  Go ahead, taste.  These are awesome!

It's time to assemble and bake this yummy casserole:

IMG_3146~ Step 1.  Spray a 2-quart casserole dish with no-stick spray.  Arrange half of the squash slices in the bottom of the dish.

Note:  This is optional, and, just me being perfection oriented (again), but, I like to pick out the irregularly-shaped pieces and put them on the bottom layer.

IMG_3161 IMG_3155~ Step 2. Distribute all of the caramelized apples and raisins over the squash.

~ Step 3.  Decoratively arrange the remaining half of the squash (the half-moon shaped ones) in concentric circles over the top.  

IMG_3167~ Step 4.  Drizzle all of the remaining cream mixture (from the bowl of squash) over the top and sprinkle with an even coating of the breadcrumbs.

~ Step 5.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325 degree oven, 1-1 1/2 hours, or until squash is cooked through and breadcrumbs are nicely browned and crunchy.

IMG_3172Note:  Watch the progress carefully after 60 minutes.  Loosely cover with aluminum foil, if necessary, to prevent breadcrumbs from burning.

Remove from oven and rest 15-30 minutes prior to serving, to allow juices to stop bubbling and set up. This casserole is fantastic gently reheated in the microwave the next day as well, so, don't be afraid to prepare it a day ahead of time!

IMG_3210Butternut Squash & Caramelized Apple Casserole:  Recipe yields 8-12 side-servings. 

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; paring knife; kitchen scale; plastic wrap; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; large slotted spoon or spatula; 2-quart casserole dish, preferably see-through glass

IMG_3024Cook's Note:  While this casserole is perfect served with roasted poultry, it is an equally good accompaniment to pork roast or pork chops.  To learn ~ The Art of Frying the Perfect "Skinny" Pork Chop ~, just click into Categories 3, 12, 19 or 20!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 


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