Have you seen tiny little butternut squashes at your farmer’s market or coop? They’re called honeynut squash, and not only are they the cutest darn things, they’re downright magical tasting. I love them in this recipe for squash rice pilaf. It’s the perfect balance of nutty and sweet, with a bright herby finish. The squash cooks right alongside the rice and the result is a velvety, melt-in-your-mouth texture that’s perfect for lunch, meal prep, or a healthy seasonal side dish.
While shopping at the market last week with my 1-year old, he sets his sights on these honeynut butternut squashes. Aren’t they the cutest dang things? They’re tiny (about a pound), so they fit perfectly into his little cubby hands. He squawked until I handed over the goods and then clutched them to his chest until we checked out. Kids man…they are weird.
When I got them home, I hadn’t a clue what I was going to do with them. At first I assumed they were just miniature butternut squash, but I did a little google sleuthing and I’m glad I did.
What is Honeynut Squash?
This is a newish hybrid variety of butternut and buttercup, developed by Dan Barber and Michael Mazourek, a plant breeder at Cornell University. They’re packed with beta-carotene, have a nearly Technicolor hue, and are intensely flavored. The flavor is much, much sweeter than traditional butternut squash, with a nutty, almost malty, flavor once cooked.
For everything you need to know about this new varietal, including the full story of how these mini squashes were born, Bon Appetit Roasted Stuffed Honeynut Squash.
How to Cook Honeynut Squash
Mazourek recommends cooking these at high heat for maximum sweetness. But ya know…I’m a bit of a rebel, and I’m just not that into super sweet veggies on their own (like, sweet potato casserole is a hard “no”). I instead opted for this sweet-and-savory rice pilaf situation and I even sort of impressed myself.
This honeynut squash rice pilaf is a happy addition to my regular rotation. The squash gets lightly pan fried and and caramelized before it finishes cooking right alongside the wild rice, and the resulting consistency is velvety, buttery, and creamy. As promised, the squash is amazingly sweet, but well balanced by wild rice, savory fresh herbs, and some orange juice and zest. Look out world, Mama’s got a new favorite pilaf.
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Honeynut Squash Rice Pilaf Recipe
This recipe is a one pot wonder and really easy to prepare. It you don’t have access to honeynut squash, go ahead and use regular butternut squash. It’ll be a little less sweet, but the flavors still work beautifully.
You start by sautéing some chopped red onion, and then add the squash until it’s just a little bit browned and caramelized.
Next you’ll toss in the wild rice to get it all toasty, then deglaze with white wine and fresh orange juice for a hit of acid.
Don’t skip the acid here. It’s fine to lose the wine, but do keep the orange juice to balance out the sweet. I use chicken bone broth for my cooking liquid, both for it’s flavor and nutritional benefits. Vegetable broth is perfectly fine to keep this dish vegetarian or vegan.
Last step? Toss in some fresh parsley, toasted pecans, and orange zest. Stir and serve. If you don’t have pecans, you can skip them (the dish is already quite nutty) or use another soft, mild nut like walnuts or pine nuts. I like the crunch, though. Toasted pepitas or sunflower seeds would be a terrific substitution to make this recipe nut free.
This honeynut rice pilaf recipe is best enjoyed warm or room temperature and reheats like a boss. I had it on its own for lunch and it was so satisfying. It’d make a great packed lunch on it’s own, or a nutritious, seasonal side dish served with pan seared salmon, roasted chicken, or steak skewers.
More Honeynut Squash Recipes
If you’re keen to explore this healthy, delicious squash, here are a few more recipes you might want to try:
- Twice Baked Honeynut Squash from Dishing Up the Dirt
- Caramelized Onion-Bacon Honeynut Squash Recipe from Cooking on the Weekends
- Stuffed Honeynut Squash with Quinoa and Pear from Zena N Zaatar
- Roasted Honeynut Squash with Rosemary and Gruyere from Kitchen Repertoire
- Roasted Stuffed Honeynut Squash from The Colorful Kitchen
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Honeynut Squash Rice Pilaf
This honeynut squash rice pilaf is the perfect balance of nutty and sweet, with a bright herby finish. It's an easy, seasonal, and nutritious recipe that's perfect on it's own for lunch, or paired with your favorite protein for dinner.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small red onion diced to 1/2"
- 2 honeynut squash peeled, seeds, and diced
- 1 c wild rice
- 1 orange juiced and zested
- 1 3/4 c bone broth, vegetable broth, or water
- 1/4 c chopped parsley
- 1/4 c pecans pan toasted
- sea salt to taste
- cracked black pepper to taste
Slice the squash in half lengthwise and trim the tops. Scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon, then peel the skin from the squash using a vegetable peeler or sharp knife. Cube the squash into ½” pieces.
Heat a dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the red onion and saute until soft, 4-5 minutes. Add the squash, toss to combine in the oil and saute over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the squash is lightly browned, 6-7 minutes.
Add the rice to the pan and stir to combine. Sautee the dry rice over medium high heat, stirring continuously, until the rice is toasted, 2-3 minutes. Add the white wine and orange juice to deglaze the pan, stirring continuously until the liquid stops bubbling. Then add the broth or water, and give everything a good stir. Increase heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil; then reduce to a simmer, cover, and simmer over low heat until the rice is fully cooked through, 35-40 minutes.
Stir in the orange zest, parsley, pecans, and salt and a pepper. Serve immediately or at room temperature. This serves 4 as a main dish, or 6 as a side dish. It keeps well in the fridge for up to 5 days.
I used a hybrid, Honeynut Butternut Squash, sourced from The Common Market, our local coop in Frederick, MD. Honeynut is a hybrid variety of butternut and buttercup, developed at Cornell University. It's flavor is much sweeter and nuttier than a traditional butternut squash. You can substitute the traditional variety if you cannot source honeynut.
Make it Vegan or Vegetarian
Use vegetable broth or water
Make it Nut-Free
Substitute roasted pepitas or sunflower seeds for the pecans
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