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Versatile vegetable side dish can be dressed up or down

Recipe: Baked butternut squash casserole, plain or fancy

Orange casserole in a white dish on oven rack
Who needs marshmallows? Butternut squash's beautiful golden-orange color adds to the festive look of the Thanksgiving meal. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)


Butternut squash subs for sweet potatoes in this lighter (and potentially healthier) version of a classic fall casserole. I say “potentially” because, like sweet potato casserole, it depends on what you put on top. Loaded with a layer of toasted mini marshmallows, it’s hard to describe a casserole as “healthier.”

But that’s the beauty of this butternut dish; it doesn’t need a fancy topping to be appealing. It’s tasty plain and golden brown.

If you like pumpkin pie spice, add more than a half teaspoon, which gives just a hint of seasonal spiciness. Or use one or more of this handy spice mixture’s ingredients: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice and nutmeg.
Baked butternut squash casserole
Makes 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients:

Peeled and cubed butternut squash
Butternut squash is peeled, seeded and cubed for the recipe,
which requires just a few other ingredients.
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed

¼ cup cream

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ cup (½ stick) butter or margarine, melted and cooled

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or more if desired)

Instructions:

Steam squash until tender. Mash. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or grease a 2-quart casserole dish; set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together cream and beaten egg.

Mix together sugar and cornstarch. Add to cream mixture.

In a large bowl, combine mashed squash with melted butter. Fold in cream-cornstarch mixture.

Season to taste with salt and pumpkin pie spice.

Pour squash mixture into prepared casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees about 40 minutes, until top is golden brown and, when inserted, a thin-bladed knife comes out clean.

Serve warm.

Note: Add to the sweetness, texture or crunch with something extra on top. Possible toppings: Graham cracker crumbs, chopped walnuts or pecans, mini marshmallows. Sprinkle topping over casserole before baking with the exception of marshmallows. Add marshmallows in final 20 minutes of baking to avoid over-browning.

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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Nov. 27

Before the rain comes later in the week, take advantage of sunny, calm days:

* This may be your last chance this season for the first application of copper fungicide spray to peach and nectarine trees. Leaf curl, which shows up in the spring, is caused by a fungus that winters as spores on the limbs and around the tree in fallen leaves. Sprays are most effective now, but they need a few days of dry weather after application to really “stick.” If you haven’t yet, spray now.

* Rake and compost leaves, but dispose of any diseased plant material. For example, if peach and nectarine trees showed signs of leaf curl this year, clean up under trees and dispose of those leaves instead of composting.

* Make sure storm drains are clear of any debris.

* Give your azaleas, gardenias and camellias a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim chrysanthemums to 6 to 8 inches above the ground after they’re done blooming. Keep potted mums in their containers until next spring. Then, they can be planted in the ground, if desired, or repotted.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while dormant.

* Plant bulbs for spring bloom. Don’t forget the tulips chilling in the refrigerator. Other suggestions: daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, anemones and scillas.

* Seed wildflowers including California poppies.

* Also from seed, plant sweet pea, sweet alyssum, bachelor buttons and other spring flowers.

* Plant most trees and shrubs. This gives them plenty of time for root development before spring growth. They also benefit from winter rains.

* Set out cool-weather annuals such as pansies and snapdragons.

* Lettuce, cabbage, broccoli and cool-season greens can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* If you decide to use a living Christmas tree this year, keep it outside in a sunny location until Christmas week. This reduces stress on the young tree.

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