Butternut Squash Brown Rice Bake with Sausage and Apples
I know I just claimed seasonal dysmorphia, but I’m pleased to report that I finally turned the fall corner last weekend.
My roommate and I went out to a friend’s house in New Jersey, and we spent Sunday morning kicking around at a local farm that offered every autumnal activity you could possibly imagine. (And then some.) There was apple picking, and hayrides, and pumpkin slingshots, and I waited in a very long line (with many children) for an apple cider slushie and warm donuts. I even got to see the state’s biggest pumpkin! Needless to say, it was thrilling.
I think I appreciated the farm trip slightly more than my companions, mostly because I’d never seen anything quite like it. I mean, I went to the pumpkin patch every year as a kid, but I lived in Santa Barbara. Said “pumpkin patch” was basically a pile of pumpkins on the boardwalk, and you’d casually pick one up on your way home from the beach. It hardly compared to this rural extravaganza, which was seasonal excitement/coziness on a whole new level, and despite sweating through my sweater, a day on the farm was just what I needed to plant my boots firmly in fall territory.
I hope you’re all prepared for the onslaught of pumpkin spice and stew…
Full disclosure, I was battling a rather severe hangover on Sunday—I am old and feeble these days—so I did not actually pick any apples. Instead I followed Logan around, eating my donuts and occasionally lying down in the grass, while he used one of those ridiculous apple-picking rake things as an air guitar to secure a sizeable fall bounty. I was very proud.
On Monday morning, I started brainstorming possibilities for what I could do with all those fancy apples. My first thought was pie or crisp (probably the latter because I’m lazy), as those are the easiest ways to tackle so much fruit. However, upon closer inspection, I realized that Logan had not been the most discerning picker. Several of the apples were in pretty bad shape, and some were weirdly small and mealy. When all was said and done, I had approximately four good apples to work with.
I was actually okay with that, since surplus amounts of fruit tend to stress me out, and using four apples seemed much more manageable. I ate one. I put one in my kale salad. I used the third to make this Butternut Squash Brown Rice Bake with Sausage and Apples. (The fate of the fourth is still TBD.)
You know I love a good cheesy bake, and I’m pretty psyched to add this bad boy into the rotation. The sweetness of apples and butternut squash with sausage is one of my all-time favorite combos, especially when you get plenty of fresh thyme and sage involved. Those foolproof fall flavors plus lots of uber melty fontina are just the thing to dress up hearty brown rice, and I threw in a crunchy Parmesan-Panko topping for good measure. The result is a straight up food hug, and I highly recommend piling it into a bowl and eating it on the couch in a thick sweater for maximum effect.
Personally, I like this casserole as a main dish (it serves 4-6 comfortably), maybe with a small salad or some roasted vegetables to round out the meal. That said, it also makes a killer side, and you could always ditch the sausage for a vegetarian option. I don’t want to get to ahead of myself here, but…I think this could be a great addition to your Thanksgiving feast? Keep that in mind.
Oh, and please don’t freak out when you see the length of the instructions. Yes, there are a couple different things going on, but with a little planning, the process is completely painless. Basically, you prep the butternut puree and the apple-sausage mix while the brown rice cooks, then stir everything together, and pop it in the oven to bake. It’ll run you about an hour and 15 minutes from start to finish, which is approximately 1.5 episodes of the many shows that are now back on TV. Feel free to bring your computer into the kitchen with you. (Multitasking!)
Happy fall for real, friends. May it be filled with casseroles, cocktails, and all things cozy.
Butternut Squash Brown Rice Bake with Sausage and Apples: (Serves 4-6)
1 cup short grain brown rice
4 cups cubed butternut squash (from about ½ large butternut squash)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large apple, diced small
1 tablespoon finely chopped sage (about 6 leaves)
1½ teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 links sweet Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1 cup grated creamy Fontina cheese
¼ cup whole wheat Panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preparing your Butternut Squash Brown Rice Bake with Sausage and Apples:
-Start by cooking your brown rice according to the package directions. (Just a heads up, this will take at least 45 minutes.)
-Place the butternut squash in a medium pot and add 3 cups chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, cover and cook for 20-25 minutes until very tender.
-Using a slotted spoon, transfer the butternut squash to a blender and puree until smooth. Reserve ¼ cup of cooking liquid. (You shouldn’t need to add any liquid to the blender, but if your blender is struggling, add a couple tablespoons of the cooking liquid to get things going.) Briefly set aside.
-Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees.
-Heat the olive oil in a 10”-12” cast iron or ovenproof skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the onion, apple, sage, thyme and salt. Cook for 5-6 minutes until the onions are translucent and the apples have softened slightly.
-Add the sausages to the pan and cook for 6-8 minutes, breaking up the meat with a spatula, until no longer pink.
-Add the ¼ cup of reserved squash cooking liquid and cook for 1 more minute, making sure to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir the brown rice, butternut puree, and Fontina into the sausage mix. Taste the filling and season with a little extra salt if necessary.
-In a small bowl combine the Panko and Parmesan. Smooth the top of the filling and sprinkle with the Panko mix. Bake for 25 minutes until lightly browned around the edges. Serve warm.
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