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Hubbard Squash Fondue

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The blue hubbard squash is an heirloom varietal that has become relatively ubiquitous in the fall. It can be found at farmers markets and most natural and conventional grocery stores and is a wonderful varietal for just about any recipe calling for winter squash or pumpkin. Sweeter, silkier, and less stringy than pumpkin, it is more akin to kabocha or delicata.

Its unusual slate-blue skin color makes it a particularly beautiful squash to serve whole, as in this recipe, where it is deseeded and filled with a fondue mixture. It is then baked in the oven, yielding spoonfuls of cheesy goodness scooped out with the flesh of the squash. Think of it as the lovechild of a Pilgrim Father and a Swiss milkmaid.

This is a dish that's wonderful on a cold day and filling enough to serve as a main course with just a green salad. Try to find a good crusty loaf from a local bakery rather than pre-sliced sandwich bread.

Serves 4-6 people

INGREDIENTS

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1 hubbard squash (6-7 lbs.)

2 cups grated Gryuere cheese

2 cups grated Emmental cheese

1 demi-baguette

3 cups sliced cremini mushrooms

½ cup diced chestnuts

3 ounces diced pancetta

1½ cups cream

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

2 eggs

½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1½ teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Slice the bread into ½-inch thick slices and arrange on a baking sheet. Place the bread in the oven and toast for 10 minutes until it is crisp to the touch. Remove from the oven and when the bread slices are cool cut them into 2-inch pieces.

Arrange the chestnuts pieces on the baking sheet and cook the chestnuts for 10 minutes to brown them at 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Slice the cremini mushrooms into thin slices. Heat 3 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet until the butter is melted and begins to bubble. Add in the mushrooms and cook them for 5-10 minutes until they are well-browned and slightly crispy. Season the mushrooms with a pinch of salt.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet and cook the pancetta until it is crispy.

In a medium bowl, whisk to combine the cream, chicken broth, eggs, nutmeg, pepper and 1 teaspoon of salt.

Remove the stem of the squash by cutting a 4-inch wide circle around the stem (large enough to fit your hand through). Scrape out the seeds and any lose pulp from the inside of the squash and trim the pulp from the bottom of the squash "lid" as well. Rub the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt on the inside of the squash to season it.

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Layer ⅓ of the ingredients inside the squash, starting with the bread and then adding the cheese, mushrooms, pancetta, and chestnuts. Pour in ⅓ of the cream mixture. Repeat with the remaining ⅔ of the ingredients. The stuffing and cream should come up to about a half inch below the rim of the squash. Place the "lid" back on the squash and rub the outside of the squash with the remaining ½ tablespoon of olive oil.

Place the squash on a roasting rack (to help it sit upright) arranged inside of a roasting pan.

Roast the squash for approximately 1½ hours until it is tender and a knife easily pierces through the squash. Remove from the oven and let the squash cool for 5 minutes. To serve, scoop out the cheesy fondue center while scraping some of the squash meat with it.

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