A pot of flaming liquid pours onto a stuffed squash on a white plate

Chef Shawn’s Show-Stopping Squash En Flambé Centerpiece

Want to impress everyone at your holiday party? Light a gourd on fire.

This recipe for savory roasted squash filled with hearty stuffing and set ablaze is elegant, fun and most importantly, super delicious. 

Chef-Instructor Shawn Matijevich, the Lead Chef of Online Culinary Arts & Food Operations at The Institute of Culinary Education, knows how to impress a holiday crowd.

“I’m usually trying to think of how to set things on fire,” he says.

Flaming liquid is poured onto a stuffed squash on a white plateOne of his go-to favorites for entertaining is a stunning stuffed squash en flambé. The recipe, which is inherently vegetarian, is meant to be served as a main dish on the holiday table, so make sure to practice your pro plating tips ahead of time.

Though the result of the recipe may look ornate, it's relatively simple in terms of execution — halve a squash or two, roast with miso butter, fill with savory-sweet stuffing and top with a quick whipped homemade meringue. You could stop there (it's also delicious sans flames), but, if you're able, the extra flair from the flambé step really seals the deal.

“If you set stuff on fire, your guests might forget about how dry your turkey is,” Chef Shawn says.

The best part of the dish (other than being delicious) is how easy it is to adjust with what you already have on hand.

“When you have family over, you always have things like cinnamon rolls, brioche, donuts," he says. "You can use any of that for the bread part of the stuffing, and you can really use any dried fruit and nuts, too."

Chef Shawn cutting a donut on a white cutting board
Chef Shawn cutting a donut and cinnamon rolls for the stuffing.

Read More about Chef Shawn: Chef Shawn's Life Lessons from the Navy & the Kitchen

It's easy to prep ahead of time, too. The squash can be roasted a day in advance and rewarmed in the oven, while the bread element should be at least a day old in order to be sturdy enough to hold up in the stuffing.

Chef Shawn came up with the dish to create a recipe that used simple ingredients while still having a dramatic show-stopping appeal.

Though many people probably don't eat pink peppercorn meringue for the holidays, adding powdered sugar to the recipe creates a very traditional marshmallow-like flavor that, when paired with roasted squash and sweet stuffing, evokes sweet potato casserole.

According to Chef Shawn, that's the whole point of the dish. All of the elements work together to create a dish that's both unique and cozy, elevated and accessible.

“I like to make things that are familiar to people," he says. "This recipe is not going be all that familiar at first, but there are aspects of it that are very traditionally comforting.”

It also helps that it happens to look really cool when doused in fire.

Here's how to make it at home.

Recipe

Squash en Flambé

Ingredients

For the squash:

  • 2 large delicata squash or 1 large Georgia candy roaster squash
  • 1/2 pounds butter
  • 3 tablespoons brown miso paste, about 1.5 tablespoons miso per squash

For the stuffing:

  • 2 cups walnuts
  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 2 cups dried figs
  • 2 cups dried apricots
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 3 cinnamon rolls or other bread-y pastries
  • 2 tablespoons ground cardamom
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar, divided
  • 3/4 butter

For the meringue:

  • 1/2 cup room temperature egg whites, from about 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons pink peppercorns, finely ground
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • Pinch of salt

For the flambé:

  • 8 fluid ounces cognac or bourbon (any high-proof dark alcohol will work well)

Directions

Roast the squash:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove all of the seeds and stringy bits of flesh and discard.
  3. Add 1/3 cup butter and miso to a sauce pan, and mix together over medium heat until the butter is fully melted and miso is incorporated, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Spread miso butter mixture liberally on cut sides of squash, making sure to coat well. Place the squash on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake in the oven for 25–40 minutes, until the squash’s skin is soft enough to pierce easily with a fork and the cut side has browned evenly. Once the squash is done, remove from the oven and set aside.

Make the stuffing:

  1. While the squash is baking, cut figs and apricots into rough halves or quarters. Dice the cinnamon rolls into 1/2-inch cubes.
  2. Add the figs, apricots and raisins into a saucepan with just enough water to cover all of the fruit. Bring to a boil and let the fruit cook for about 5 minutes, or until the fruit is rehydrated. Once done, carefully drain the cooking liquid from the fruit and reserve it. Set off to the side.
  3. In a sauté pan, add brown sugar over low to medium-low heat. Watching closely, let the sugar start to melt and form into a caramel-like sauce, about 2 to 3 minutes, stirring as needed.
  4. Once all of the brown sugar has melted, slowly add in apple cider vinegar. The mixture will bubble up, so be careful as you pour. Mix the vinegar into the brown sugar with a spatula until all is incorporated. Let simmer until the liquid reduces by half, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  5. Once the liquid has reduced, add butter and the reserved liquid from the dried fruit. Stir the mixture to incorporate all ingredients. Let the mixture cook until the butter is completely melted and has thickened a bit. It should be a dark brown color. Turn the heat down to low and add all of the spices: cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. Stir to thoroughly combine. Remove from heat and add a pinch of salt, to taste. You want the sweetness and acidity to taste balanced.
  6. Once the sauce has come together, in a large mixing bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients (nuts, seeds and cinnamon roll pieces), the rehydrated dried fruit, and the brown sugar sauce. Stir well to combine and set aside until the squash has finished baking.

Make the meringue:

  1. Into the bowl of a stand mixer, add the egg whites. Beat on medium-high speed until the egg whites have begun to foam and fluff up.
  2. Once egg whites are foamy, while the mixer is still whipping, add the granulated white sugar. Whip the egg whites and sugar until they’ve come together and start to hold their shape in stiff peaks.
  3. Once the the meringue has been whipped enough to hold its shape, add the powdered sugar and pink peppercorns. Whisk again to incorporate.
  4. Using a spatula, add the meringue to a pastry bag with piping tip or a clean plastic bag. If using a plastic bag, seal it and cut a corner off to pipe through once you have reached that step in the next part of the recipe.

Assemble:

  1. If the squash has cooled, place it back in the oven for a few minutes to warm through. Once warm, remove the squash from the oven and begin to fill the empty squash cavity with the stuffing mixture. The stuffing should be heaping, covering the squash and completely filling the cavity.
  2. Place the squash on the desired serving dish. Pipe small dollops of the meringue on top of the stuffed squash, to your liking.*
  3. Add the liquor to a saucepan and begin to heat it over high heat. Once the liquor starts to boil, keep a close eye on it. If using a gas stove, it may begin to catch on fire on its own, but if using a gas stove, you may need to use a kitchen torch to light the alcohol.
  4. Once flaming, very carefully pour the flaming liquor into a metal gravy boat or heat-resistant serving dish with a handle and spout. To serve, carefully pour the flaming liquor over the top of the squash, making sure to pour any remaining liquid back into the saucepan with the heat off.
  5. Serve the flaming squash impress your guests, and once the flame has died out, carefully cut and serve.

*Optional:If you have a kitchen torch, gently toast the meringue dollops until the just start to brown on the outside.

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