Posh Squash

Cleveland chef Douglas Katz shares creative ideas for filling a fall favorite.

Recipes: Roasted Pumpkin Stuffed with Bread Pudding; Acorn Squash with Wild Rice, Dried Cherries and Almonds.

Roasted Pumpkin Stuffed With Bread Pudding

Jason Miller

Acorn Squash Stuffed With Wild Rice, Dried Cherries and Almonds

Jason Miller

Chef Douglas Katz

Jason Miller

Douglas Katz began experimenting with winter squashes as a 16-year-old growing up in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights. His first attempt was a pie pumpkin filled with bread pudding and roasted whole, a dessert that topped off a menu he planned for a dinner party hosted by his parents. He presented the pumpkin at the dining room table, then returned to the kitchen to slice it into wedges, each plated and served with a drizzle of warmed local maple syrup and dollop of freshly whipped cream.

The dish was inspired in part by the teen’s love of pumpkins — he had already graduated from making pumpkin pies to turning out pumpkin cake rolls — and in part by his mother Linda. Katz describes her as a woman who continually expanded her culinary repertoire by taking cooking classes, and who stressed the importance of using proper techniques in the kitchen.

“For all I know, I saw some recipe for it when I was little,” says the owner and executive chef at fire food & drink, an upscale eatery on Cleveland’s Shaker Square. “I just thought putting the pudding inside of the pumpkin would be a great baking method. It kept the pudding moist. And when it was done, it was firm.”

Over the last two decades, Katz has continued stuffing squashes with everything from mushroom risotto to ratatouille. He works exclusively with hard winter types — pumpkin and butternut, acorn, spaghetti and delicata squashes — rather than summer counterparts like zucchini and yellow squashes.

“They’re just more delicate,” he says of the latter. “And green squashes, when they cook too long, are sort of ugly.” He also prefers to stuff larger varieties such as pumpkin and butternut squash. “A butternut squash is great because it has more substance to it. And it’s better for more than one person because it tends to be a little bit bigger.”

But Katz makes an exception for the smallish dark-green acorn squash. A single half filled with a mix of wild rice, dry cherries and almonds can take over a plate, particularly if it’s topped with an arugula salad and goat cheese as he suggests. With the exception of his beloved bread-pudding-stuffed pumpkin, any stuffed squash can serve as an entree.

“It makes a great vegetarian dish,” he raves. “It’s substantial, and it looks wonderful.”


Roasted Pumpkin Stuffed With Bread Pudding
Courtesy of Chef Douglas Katz, fire food & drink
Serves 6–8

1 medium pie pumpkin (about the size of a volleyball), cleaned jack-o-lantern-style (but without the carved face)
8 packed cups of crusty, rustic Italian- or French-style bread (sold in a paper sleeve), crusts removed, torn into 1-inch pieces and left uncovered overnight
1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced into half-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup plus pinch brown sugar
1 teaspoon plus pinch cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon plus pinch nutmeg
pinch salt
pinch cayenne pepper
8 large eggs
pinch ground cloves
1 quart heavy cream
whipped cream and maple syrup (optional)

Prepare the bread in advance.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Clean the pumpkin and set aside. Toss squash with melted butter and pinches of brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cayenne pepper in a bowl until cubes are well coated, working quickly so butter won’t harden. Place squash cubes on a cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Beat eggs with whisk, then add remaining brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg as well as pinch of cloves. Add cream and beat until combined. In a separate bowl, combine bread and squash cubes. Pour custard mixture over bread and squash cubes and chill for 1 hour.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Place pumpkin and “lid” side by side in a greased 9 x 13 glass baking dish. Remove bread and squash cubes from bowl with a slotted spoon (bread should look and feel like a completely soaked sponge) and stuff pumpkin. (Remaining custard can be discarded or baked in a water bath at 300 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes or until set.) Do not overstuff. Bake uncovered for 2 hours or until bread pudding is set and pumpkin is easily pierced with a fork. Allow to cool for 2 hours.

Present at table with “lid” in place if desired, then return to kitchen and slice into six or eight wedges. Top with dollop of whipped cream and drizzle of warmed local maple syrup.

Acorn Squash Stuffed With Wild Rice, Dried Cherries and Almonds

Courtesy of Chef Douglas Katz, fire food & drink
Serves 2

3 tablespoons sun-dried cherries
3 tablespoons cranberry juice
3 tablespoons sliced almonds
1 large acorn squash
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2-3/4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup leeks (white part only),
cleaned and thinly sliced
1 cup wild rice
1 thyme sprig
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons butter

Soak sun-dried cherries in cranberry juice for 1 hour and strain. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Place almonds on ungreased cookie sheet and toast for 10 minutes or until almonds smell nutty. Remove from oven and set aside.

Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees. Halve acorn squash through the stem and remove seeds. Salt and pepper to taste, then brush insides with melted butter. Place the squash halves skin side up in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish with 1/4 inch water covering the bottom of dish and parbake for 45 minutes. Remove and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes.

On stove top, bring chicken stock to a boil in a saucepan. In a separate, ovenproof saucepan, heat the oil and add the leeks. Sweat over medium heat until tender, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Add wild rice and toast for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Salt and pepper chicken stock to taste. Add thyme, bay leaf and boiling chicken stock to leeks and rice. Cover with tight-fitting lid and place saucepan in the oven for 45–50 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed. Remove rice from oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork, remove bay leaf and thyme spring, and stir in cherries and almonds.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Stuff each squash half with half of the rice mixture, then top each stuffed half with 1 tablespoon butter. Return to oven and bake, uncovered, for another 25 to 30 minutes or until hot and squash is tender.

Top with arugula salad and goat cheese if desired.