We associate them with a cozy, family feeling on cold, rainy evenings. We salivate seeing them warm and bubbling out of the oven, and we simply love the convenience. Casseroles have a place as a staple food in many cultures, Lasagna, mac & cheese, enchiladas, or the classic tuna, these recipes have been passed down because they let you stretch food as far as possible and they can be assembled ahead of time.
A problem for WildFitters is that these classic comfort foods are generally based on grains, condensed soups and lots of cheese. Fortunately, this recipe breaks all those old rules while keeping the essence of what we want from a casserole. Vegetarians don’t lose heart, simply replace the meat with mushrooms and the eggs with flax eggs. It still bakes up delicious!
Prep Time: 30 minutes.
Cook Time: 60 minutes.
Makes: 8-12 servings.
2 Tbsp avocado oil
2 lbs winter squash in WF Season (pumpkin/ kobacha/ butternut/ buttercup)
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
0.5 lb sausages, sliced (about 2- 3 large sausages)
4 cloves garlic, minced
Small bunch of chives
1 bell pepper, diced
2 tbsp coconut oil
Salt, pepper, herb mix of choice
For the BBQ sauce:
1/2 cup coconut aminos
1/4 cup (sugar free) tomato paste
2 Tbsp maple syrup/honey (optional- can omit in Spring)
1 Tbsp blackstrap molasses (optional- can omit in Spring)
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp chili powder
The first thing to note is that this recipe requires a few different steps. It is meant to serve a family twice over or be prepped in advance for a busy work night or lazy weekend, so a little extra time more than balances it out in the end. It is also highly customizable. Meaning you can substitute any low moisture veg in for the peppers and use mushrooms instead of meat and flax eggs or your binder of choice if you wish. The elements that hold it together are the squash and BBQ sauce- everything else is changeable (but maybe not on the first go). All I am saying is- eventually feel free to make it your own!
Begin by preheating your oven to to 400° F. We are going to use the oven twice for two shorter periods at the same temperature. Once to cook the elements and the second time to fuse the flavors. You will need to have the chicken thighs and squash ready to go in the oven first. Use two medium sized baking dishes for this job. I like to place a silicone sheet at the bottom of my chicken dish to avoid the pieces sticking or too much mess later. Otherwise, grease it lightly with an oil of your choice. Add an inch or so of water to the squash dish to steam it as it bakes.
Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Peel the skin off however you feel most comfortable then chop the flesh into small pieces. Some find chopping thin slices therapeutic, others find it hazardous and prefer a food processor with a grater attachment or a mandolin. Whatever your tool of choice, you simply want to end up with thin, uniform slices of squash in the baking dish.
Next, prep the chicken pieces by washing them and seasoning both sides with salt, pepper and herb mix of choice. Some people have a specific chicken blend, others prefer a classic oregano and thyme mix, use whatever works for you. The most important thing is that the pieces are boneless. Bone in pieces take much longer to cook and are more difficult to chop when the time comes. If you are thinking ahead to the rest of the week, use a larger pan and cook extra chicken, so that you have another piece of your week prepped and are making the most of your oven time. Remove the chicken from the oven after it has cooked to an internal temperature of 165° F, about 20 minutes or so. Once the chicken has rested at least 10 minutes, you can chop it into bite sized pieces.
While the squash and chicken are cooking, it is time to get the rest of the recipe ready. Take out your sausages and slice them up. I prefer to do this with a pair of scissors to save time. The sausages you chose can fit your preferences- spicy, mild, or flavored with herbs- but always try to source them well from someone who does not use sugar. You can also simply substitute more chicken if sausages aren’t your thing, but they do add a certain richness of nutrients and savory flavor which is why they are included in the original. Cook them up in a pan over medium heat for about 6-8 minutes, turning them as they brown. Once fully cooked, remove the pieces to a plate or leave in the pan, but be sure to drain the grease!
Once the squash is tender when pierced with a fork but not yet mushy, remove it from the oven. This usually takes about 30-40 minutes, so poke it intermittently after 30 minutes until done. If there is any standing water left at the bottom of it’s baking dish, drain it out. I like to to pour all of the squash into a colander just to ensure the casserole does not end up soggy.
Keep your oven at 400°F, this next bit won’t take long! While the squash, chicken and sausages are cooking, chop all of your veggies. As mentioned before, you can substitute the green bell pepper for another veg of your choice. The garlic is an ingredient present in most casseroles, so I don’t think it would be the same without it. Fresh chives have just become available as natural spring is arriving, however you can also substitute a couple handfuls of chopped green onion, shallots, or whatever you have on hand in their place.
Whisk the 3 eggs together in a large bowl. It may not look like enough to bind everything- but don’t forget we are also making a sauce. Add the cooked sausage pieces, garlic, green onions and bell pepper to the bowl. Mix well, then refrigerate.
Make the BBQ sauce by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl and stirring them together well. Have a taste and see if it needs anything extra- some like a punch of hot sauce or a smoke of chipotle- but the original creates a base for the other flavours to meld into, without overpowering them.
Add the chopped chicken, drained squash pieces and BBQ sauce to the large bowl and mix everything together well with a spatula. It will look like a mess, so classic casserole magic. Dump the mixture into a greased 9×13 baking dish and spread it out evenly. If you are a small family you may wish to make two smaller dishes and save one for later. If prepping for later, at this point the dish can be frozen or placed in the fridge, to be baked at a later time.
When ready to bake, place the casserole in the oven to cook for 30 minutes at 400°F, until the eggs are cooked and set. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving. Garnish the dish with fresh chives and parsley.
Enjoy in comfort!