This time I have the perfect substitute for quince that you can use in case you cannot get the fragrant old apple-like fruit, which is the epitome of our Mediterranean winter. I actually envy you, because you can get these absolutely fantastic mini butternut squash, or honey-nut-squash as they are called, developed by Michael Mazourek, a plant breeder at Cornell University, in collaboration with the visionary Dan Barber.
I used a variation of the stuffing I have in my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts (page 156) omitting the tomato sauce. If you are going to stuff just the squash, I suggest you add some tart apple to the stuffing, or spike its sweetness with pomegranate molasses. You can, of course add spicy sausage for flavor, since the original idea for this sumptuous vegan dish came to me from the traditional, meat-filled Turkish quince. I baked the stuffed squash and quince in a bed of Roasted Quince and Carrots and the combination was wonderful.
3-4 quinces (2 ½-3 pounds)
4-5 mini squash (honey-nut-squash), or 8-10 squash if you do not use quince
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cups onions or leek, coarsely chopped
2 cups walnuts, coarsely ground, plus a few whole to garnish
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/2 cups cooked wheat berries or farro (see Note)
1 1/2 teaspoons Lebanese 7-spice blend or more, to taste
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 Granny Smith or other tart apple, coarsely grated (optional, if you don’t use quince)
1 cup raisins
1 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (optional)
1 cup finely chopped dill –1 tablespoon reserved to garnish Roasted Quince and Carrots (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400˚F (220 C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Rub the fuzz off each quince, wash, and dry. Halve each fruit through the equator, using a good chef’s knife. Don’t peel. Halve the squash horizontally and with a spoon remove the seeds and strings. Arrange the squash and the quince halves on the baking dish, cut side up, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Let cool.
(You can bake the quince and squash up to 4 days in advance and keep covered in the refrigerator. Bake more and freeze them to use later in savory or sweet dishes.)
Prepare the Quince and Squash: Using a grapefruit knife or spoon, very carefully remove as much flesh as possible from each quince half without piercing the skin on the sides. Remove the core and pips pricking the bottom and patch the hole with a piece of the removed flesh. Place the quince flesh in a blender and pulse to chop – you will have about 2 cups.
You won’t need to remove the flesh from the squash; just push it carefully with your finger to enlarge the opening.
Prepare the stuffing: In a large skillet heat 1/3 cup olive oil over medium-high heat, add the onions or leek and sprinkle with salt. Sauté for 8-10 minutes or until soft. Add the walnuts, orange juice, wheat berries, and the quince pulp or grated apple and toss. Remove from the heat, add the spices, raisins and dill –reserve 1 tablespoon dill for garnish – and stir well to mix. Taste and correct the seasoning and flavor, adding pomegranate molasses if the mixture is too sweet, especially if you are just stuffing squash.
Arrange the quince and squash halves, hollow side-up, in an ovenproof clay or glass pan that holds them snuggly, or place on a bed of Roasted Quince and Carrots . Fill the squash and quince using all the stuffing.
Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the foil, stick a walnut half and a piece of orange on top of the stuffing and bake 5-10 minutes more, to brown the tops. Sprinkle with the reserved dill and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
NOTE: Precooking Wheat Berries or Farro
Makes 2 1/2 to 3 cups (400 to 480 g) cooked grains
1 cup wheat berries, or farro
Place the grains in a pot and add cold water to cover by 2 inches (5 cm). Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer half the time recommended on the package.
Cooking times vary greatly between brands, so carefully check the cooking times suggested on the package.
Taste, and if the grains are still quite hard, continue cooking. Taste again after 10 minutes. You want the grains al dente, not mushy.
Drain and let cool completely, then transfer to a zip-top bag and freeze flat. They will keep for up to 6 months.
To finish cooking, take out the bag, beat on the counter to loosen the grains, and use as many as you need. Close the bag and return to the freezer.