I harbor romantic notions of myself as a farm girl. I’d gather fresh eggs every morning, milk my goats and make cheese in the afternoon, then cook cozy dinners like Healthy Butternut Squash Casserole with Sausage and Sage Breadcrumbs, using ingredients picked from my land of course.
In farm girl reality, I’d whine about ruining my shoes in the chicken coop and provoke a goat bite. I still, however, hold fast to the beautiful notion of cooking from what the earth provides right where I am, right now—even if I pick from the grocery store bin, instead of my backyard.
This concept of seasonal eating became real to me when I first started cooking for myself. Directly out of college and on a budget, I quickly realized that seasonal ingredients both cost less than out-of-season ones and taste much better too.
What began as a logical budgetary decision has turned into a passion, and I now look forward to the way the colors in my grocery cart change as the year progresses.
My farm girl alter ego came into being after reading Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Though Kingsolver has written some of my favorite fictional works, Animal Vegetable Miracle is the true story of how she and her family moved to an inherited farm in Appalachia and ate only what they could grow themselves or buy within 100 miles for a full year.
It’s an enthralling read and inspired this self-proclaimed city girl to dream about country life. Two days ago, I asked Ben if he ever thought it would be neat to live on a farm. He responded with an emphatic NO. My suede booties were relieved, but in my defense, Ben hasn’t read the book.
The Best Healthy Butternut Squash Casserole
Though I’m certainly not a seasonal-eating purist (last February, I bought a $6 pint of raspberries just to remember what summer tastes like), dishes such as this butternut squash casserole with sausage and kale remind me that even chilly winter offers ingredients to celebrate.
The sweet butternut squash and hearty kale, together with spicy-sweet sausage and rosemary create a vibrant casserole filling so tasty, I snacked on it by the light of my refrigerator door.
Though the butternut squash casserole filling is lovely on its own, it is the breadcrumb topping that makes this recipe something special. I was inspired by a butternut squash crumble recipe in David Lebovtiz’ latest cookbook My Paris Kitchen. David’s version is intended to be a side dish and is rather decadent, but I was so captivated by the idea of a savory (vs. dessert) crumble, I had to try my own version.
I transformed the original side into an all-in-one main dish by adding chicken sausage and kale, shortened the ingredient list to make it more accessible on a weeknight, and adapted the herbs to suit what I had on hand. David’s ingenious cornmeal, breadcrumb, Parmesan, and sage topping, however, had to stay.
I lightened up the topping by swapping some of the butter for Pompeian Extra Virgin Olive Oil and used whole wheat breadcrumbs. It still turned out perfectly golden and rich—no one will ever notice the healthy substitution.
I can’t say enough wonderful things about this butternut squash casserole. The filling is hearty and flavorful, and the topping is a delightful combination of sweet, salty, cheesy, crunchy. It can be prepped ahead and then baked in the evening, and it tastes fantastic leftover too. This butternut squash casserole is also loaded with veggies and lean protein. You’ll feel like a superstar for eating comforting food that’s good for you too.
In addition to the butternut squash and kale in today’s casserole, December has a wealth of other bright offerings. Once again, I’m joining my friend Becky of The Vintage Mixer and the #EatSeasonal blogger team to share a collection of seasonal recipes. We do this each month and would love to have you join us by posting a photo of your own seasonal dishes with the hashtag #eatseasonal. It’s a fantastic way to share December’s best eats, and we’ll regram our favorites too!
Butternut Squash Casserole Storage Tips
- To Store. Cover and refrigerate leftover casserole for up to 4 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm leftovers in a baking dish in the oven at 350 degrees F.
- To Freeze. Freeze leftovers in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
More Delicious Butternut Squash Recipes
- Mashed Butternut Squash
- Crockpot Butternut Squash Soup
- Roasted Butternut Squash
- Easy Roasted Butternut Squash Parmesan
- Slow Cooker Risotto with Butternut Squash
I might not be ready for the farm life, but I’m thinking a goat might still make a decent pet. If the neighbors ask questions, I’ll just take them over a big pan of butternut squash casserole with sausage and kale (and maybe some cheese). I’m sure there’s no misunderstanding we can’t resolve over plates of comfort food.
Remind me to bring a second pan, just in case.
Butternut Squash Casserole
For the Butternut Squash Filling:
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil divided
- 1 large (3 ½ pound) butternut squash peeled, seeded, and diced into ¾-inch cubes, divided (about 9 ½ cups)
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme divided (rosemary works as well)
- 2 cloves minced garlic divided (about 2 tablespoons)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt divided
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper divided
- 12 ounces kale* tough stems removed and chopped or torn into bite-sized pieces, divided (I used curly kale)
- 1 medium yellow onion thinly sliced, divided
- 1 cup low sodium vegetable stock or chicken stock divided
For the Topping:
- 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs** or ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Generously grease a shallow 9×13-inch casserole dish or similar 3-quart baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
- Prepare the filling in two batches: Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add half of the butternut squash, ½ tablespoon of the rosemary, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper. Sauté until the squash is beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. The squash will still be too firm to eat.
- Next, add half of the kale, half of the onions, and half of the garlic. Cook until the kale and onions begin to soften, about 4 minutes.
- Add the ½ cup of the chicken stock, stir, and let cook 1 minute so that the stock reduces slightly.
- Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and with a spoon, prod it into a relatively even layer.
- Heat the remaining tablespoon olive oil in the skillet, then repeat the above steps with the remaining half of each of the ingredients. Transfer the rest of the filling to the casserole dish. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the squash is soft when pierced with a sharp knife.
- While the squash bakes, prepare the topping: In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, sage, nutmeg, and salt. Pour the melted butter over the top. Stir to combine.
- Remove the casserole from the oven, remove the foil, then sprinkle the top evenly with the breadcrumb mixture.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, return the dish to the oven, then bake uncovered, until the bread crumbs are golden, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.
- *You also can omit the kale and make this recipe with a few extra cups of additional butternut squash, though we love the mix of both!
- **To make your own fresh breadcrumbs, tear bread (leftover sourdough or similar artisan breads or leftover baguette is my favorite; you can also use 3 slices of sandwich bread) into pieces and place in the food processor. Pulse in long bursts until you have crumbs. Measure and use in the recipe as directed.
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