Thursday, October 8, 2009

Nikki's Savory Sausage Squash Casserole

Ok a quick disclaimer: you're going to see me do a LOT of cooking with italian sausage. Aside from the fact that every girl loves a bit of sausage (wink wink) italian sausage is an EXTREMELY easy ingrediant to cook with, its pre-seasoned, you can serve it whole, slice it into chunks or squeeze it out of the skins and use it as ground meat. It also adds a lot of flavor for a small cost to everything from soups to burgers to casseroles. I don't have a ton of discretionary income for fancy spices and I'm perpetually either running late home from work or making dinner in the middle of finishing up work (hubby's not such a fan of the air card that enables me to access work email 24-7... sorry babe, a girls gotta stay connected in the corporate world!) so I need easy ingrediants that give a ton of flavor for minimal effort & cost.

Now that thats out of the way, ON TO THE COOKING! woo hoo!

Now aside from my love of sausage, I also love finding alternative healthier ingrediants for really filling foods. Most casseroles call for things like cream of chicken or mushroom soup (holy high sodium!), potatoes or pastas, what I'm going to share with you today uses squash with just a little milk & eggs to bind it all together. If you've never had squash before or have and weren't a fan, stay with me here, I gaurantee this is going to taste 1,000 times better than what you're imagining right now!

Oh and before I start I'll add a disclaimer for any vegetarians out there, this dish can very easily be converted to veggie-friendly by replacing the suasage with mushrooms. Keep in mind though that I'm using the sausage for much of my flavor so you'll want to add more seasings. I'd recomend 1-2 tsp each italian seasoning, cumin, salt & pepper, and double the chili powder & red pepper flakes that I'm using.

You'll need one small or half of a large butternut squash. Cut the squash in half and scoop the seeds out of the bell part. If you're one of those that shouldn't be trusted with sharp objects (you know who you are!) please have a loved one handle this part... Now put the squash cut side down into a baking dish with about 1 inch of water and stick it in the oven at 375 for 40-45 minutes or until you can very easily pierce it with a fork.

While the squash is baking you can start on the rest of the casserole. You'll need about a pound of hot italian sausage. Normally I go for turkey but the regular pork sausage links were on sale this week so thats what I'll be using. Squeeze the meat out of the skins and put in a big skillet (if you're using turkey I'd recommend spraying with Pam first!) and break into chunks. Cook over medium-high heat continuing to break apart until there's no more pink. This sausage is a bit greasy so I'm putting it on a plate with some paper towels to soak up some of it.

Pour off the excess grease then put 1 small onion, diced, into the skillet to cook over medium-high heat. I didn't clean out the skillet so that I wouldnt need to add any more oil & so the onions would absorb some of the flavorings. If you're using turkey the you'll need to add some oil. Add about 1 tablespoon of diced garlic and allow to cook.

While the onions cook dice up 3-4 sweet bell peppers (you want about 1 cup). Now I'll share my top secret way to cut peppers with ease... I think I saw it on some Food Network show... anway:
1) slice off the very top of the pepper (don't worry if the stem is still attached)
2) turn the pepper and slice off the very bottom
3) make a cut straight down the side
4) peel the pepper away from the seeds & stem and discard
5) vioala! you now have a nice sheet of pepper that is rediculously easy to slice into strips :)
Toss the peppers into the onions and add 1 cup of frozen corn. Cook over medium heat until everything is heated through and add 1 tsp chili powder & 1 tsp red pepper flakes and toss the sausage into the mix. Remove from heat and set aside while you deal with the squash.

In a medium sized bowl combine two egg whites with two whole eggs and mix them up well.

At this point the squash should be done baking (can you easily stick a fork in it?) carefully take it out of the oven and scoop the insides out. When I say carefully... I really mean it... its HOT! Put a very little bit of the hot squash guts into the eggs to temper them (if you dump all the squash in at once it'll start cooking them and you'll have chunks of scrambled eggs in your casserole... which you might like... however its not what I was going for... Anyway add just a little bit at first then dump the rest in and mix it up. You can use a hand mixer, however I just LOVE any opportunity to use one of my FAVORITE cooking gadgets: the pastry cutter!!! (cue angels!). Now I'm not sure that I've ever used the pastry cutter for actual pastry cutting... however its EXCELLENT for making chunky mashed potatos or sweet pototo soufle... and it looks like an impressive cooking tool... Mix the squash & eggs together and add about 1/4 cup milk (I used 1%) then add the meat & veggies, give them a stir and dump them out into a casserole dish (pre-sprayed with Pam). Top with about 1/2 cup shredded low fat cheese & another tsp of chili powder and stick that bad boy back in the oven at 375 for 20 minutes and you have dinner!

One of the things I love about squash is its versatility, this recipe was adapted from a similar one that called for potatoes (it also tripled the cheese & added cream of chicken soup but we won't go there today) If you're watching your carbs & calories squash is a GREAT tradeoff and can be used in a TON of different things. Squash has half of the calories & carbs as potatoes and in this recipe if you didnt know the squash was there all you'd notice is a orangey color that most would attribute to more cheese. Don't get me wrong now I love potatoes in all of their baked, fried & smushed forms, and potatoes DO have twice the protein & potassium, but to shave off some extra calories I'll gladly make this swap :)


Post a Comment