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Embrace winter with squash filled with veggies, ricotta

Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

I’m always looking for ways to make dishes meatless without sacrificing flavor or substance. With that in mind, the beautiful variety of winter squashes at a local market inspired this dish. In the past I used sausage to flavor the filling, but here, baked vegetables boost the taste.

There’s some prep work involved, but the good news is that these stuffed squash halves are best if baked early in the day and reheated at dinnertime, so there’s no last-minute rush.

Baked Ricotta-and- Vegetable-Stuffed Squash

6 servings

3 Carnival, Dumpling or acorn squashes, cut in half lengthwise and seeded (each 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 small onions, cut into approximately 1/4-inch dice (8 ounces)

1 small red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into approximately 1/4-inch dice (5 ounces)

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper2 medium zucchini, cut into approximately 1/4-inch dice (8 ounces)

8 ounces white or cremini mushrooms, cut into approximately 1/4-inch dice

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese

6 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the squash halves, cut sides down, in one layer in a deep roasting pan. Add water to the pan to a depth of 1/2 inch. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake until the flesh is just tender, 45 to 60 minutes.

Carefully transfer the squash halves to a work surface and turn them cut side up. Allow them to cool for 10 minutes, then scoop out a total of about 2 cups of flesh from the halves, making sure to leave a layer of flesh so the halves hold their shape. Mash or chop the squash meat to break up any clumps.

While the squash is cooling, line a large rimmed baking sheet or a roasting pan with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick cooking oil spray.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and bell pepper, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft. Add the zucchini and mushrooms; cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and just starting to brown a little. Add the squash flesh, and stir to combine well. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring, to allow the excess moisture from the squash to evaporate. Remove from the heat.

Mix the egg, ricotta, 4 tablespoons of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the parsley in a large bowl. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Add the cooked vegetable mixture and stir to combine.

Place the cooked squash halves, skin sides down, in the prepared pan. Fill each half with an equal portion of the ricotta-vegetable mixture. Sprinkle each with an equal portion of the remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set and the edges are just starting to brown. Let the squashes rest for at least 30 minutes before serving. Reheat in a 350-degree oven if they have cooled too much. If the squashes have been refrigerated, cover with foil while reheating.

Nutrition per serving: 280 calories, 14 g protein, 33 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 230 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar.

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