A nutty, earthy rice and roasted butternut casserole sweetened only with cranberries and finished with notes of smoke, Wild Rice & Butternut Casserole with Cranberries and Pecans is as great a side dish or main meal as any during fall or the holidays.
Looking for a special dish to compliment your Thanksgiving or holiday turkey? This delicious casserole has wonderful fall sweet and savory notes. A lovely medley of wild and brown rice pilaf, this harvest casserole is brimming with festive colors and fall flavors.
This cozy butternut squash wild rice casserole is the perfect blend of seasonal flavors you won’t know you are craving until you taste it.
Last week, I made the decision to re-set my brain by eating vegetables and only plant-based foods for five days. It was an experiment. I needed to break free of this ‘brain fog’ I experience daily. I attribute my fog to many things, but at least this ‘thing’ I can fix, and that is what I am putting into my body. Wild Rice & Butternut Casserole with Cranberries and Pecans was born out of my healthy experimentation.
A sort of wild rice pilaf with squash, pecans, and fresh or dried cranberries, this filling casserole makes for EXCELLENT leftovers.
Those of you who follow me on Instagram have likely viewed my IG stories showing nothing but yummy rice bowls, platters of grilled vegetables dressed in beautiful herb vinaigrettes, and my first go-round with the Impossible brand of plant-based foods. Do you know what? I was “clear” within the first 12 hours. And I was sharp minded by day three. I am not counting calories, rather packing the meals with healthy proteins, good fats, and whole foods.
Wild rice with cranberries? Yep, you read that right. Wild rice recipes can take on many different flavors, but butternut squash and rice with the addition of something tart like a cranberry SCREAMS fall.
My faro bowl I topped with soft-cooked egg, grilled Shishido’s, roasted garbanzos and tahini. It is the first of two of my favorite dishes I made up as I went along. My other favorite is today’s recipe for Wild Rice & Butternut Casserole with Cranberries and Pecans.
I will be the primary cook for Thanksgiving dinner this year. It is the first time I’ve really planned the entire meal from A to Z and mercifully, it is only for my small family. The pandemic has changed the way in which families and friends will gather for sure. This dish, and because I have some control over what we will be eating this year, will be on our table.
Earthy wild rice, crunchy pecans, tart cranberries, beautifully roasted butternut squash come together in this unforgettable wild rice pilaf recipe.
It has both sweet and savory elements, and a few very satisfying textures in both the rice as well as the pecans. It reminds me of Yotam Ottolenghi, whose recipes you know I adore, and it has everything I love in a dish to complement my turkey, including a delicate smoky flavor. This is because I add some smoked paprika to the boiling homemade chicken stock liquid in which I cook the wild rice. Bam.
This wild rice and butternut casserole is literally a canvas for your personal preferences. What I mean to say is, if you hate smoke, skip the paprika. If your kid won’t touch a cranberry, dried chopped apricots are a fantastic substitute. Acorn, pumpkin, or delicata squashes all make remarkable stand-ins if you cannot find a butternut squash. Heck, I considered garnishing the finished casserole with chopped apple to make it even prettier. It is your call. This is an adaptable dish. As long as the ratio of rice to herbs to some sort of winter squash remains the same, you have a fabulously fresh harvest dish. Oh, and I have also made this and stuffed a roasting hen with it. Yes, this could be used as stuffing…a colorful, tasty cranberry wild rice dressing.
This casserole would make a mean main dish by adding leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Leftover Tuesday night roasted chicken would work well, too.
When I began fooling with the ingredients for this recipe, I knew it was destined for my Thanksgiving table. I pre-batched it for my trusty tasters and it earned a horde of “wows.” I think though, that the addition of the smoke, and the dusting of sharp Parmesan at the very end of the bake give this its signature. Something I had not considered is preparing this after Thanksgiving using a bit of chopped leftover turkey as an additional ingredient. Now, it has just become a main dish meal. And since making it using this method, I have been asked to “do that rice squash casserole thing” again…twice!
Experimenting with wild rice was my first time ever actually cooking it. I learned from a seemingly knowledgeable produce manager at Whole Foods that true wild rice is harvested by hand from lakes in Minnesota and as far north as Canada. The grains are a type of grass. It is vegan, gluten-free, high in protein and fiber, and low in fat. Honestly, I did not purchase it because of any of its health attributes, as I was going more for the texture angle. After having cooked with it and thoroughly enjoyed the flavor, I’m now wholeheartedly a fan.
A sorry discovery that opens the future to more delish rice recipes…
And given this was my first time with wild rice, I realized that I have no real rice recipes posted on Not Entirely Average. So, I promise to remedy that going forward given the ease of preparation, and of course, the health benefits. Rice and butternut squash or really any rice and squash recipe are at the top of my list. Regardless, I promise to get to it.
Once the rice and the butternut are ready, they marry with a brief stir in a big bowl, all the other ingredients mingling in with them. This method really does allow for each of the flavors to be experienced on the palette separately.
This dish, which makes enough to yield some great leftovers, gets better each day as the flavors develop. You can use all wild rice or a combination of wild with basmati, brown or red Bhutanese. My personal choice would be any Lundberg mixed rice combinations. They offer a wild rice pilaf, a regular brown rice blend, and a regular wild rice blend. It is a trusted brand and an excellent way to go. I roasted by butternut while the rice was cooking. I let them go undisturbed until they’re tender and lightly caramelized on the bottoms. Then, during the last 5 minutes of the roast, I give them a good toss. I also scatter the chopped onion over the butternut and leave to finish out. Really, this only gives the onion enough time to sweat, but it’s enough.
You want that bit of savory and the onion lends a hand in that. Once the rice and the butternut are ready, they marry with a brief stir in a big bowl, all the other ingredients mingling in with them. This way, the casserole remains lofty and maintains all the unique textures. I turn the lot out into a casserole greased only lightly with some olive oil and then into the oven it goes for about 15 to 20 minutes. The Parmesan is up to you. I add it because anything with cheese is a winner in this house. It sharpens the smoke I feel and heightens the caramelized squash considerably. The method really does allow for each of the flavors to be experienced on the palette separately.
All images and text ©Jenny DeRemer for Not Entirely Average, LLC
Wild Rice & Butternut Casserole with Cranberries and Pecans
- 9 x 13 casserole dish
Ingredients for Wild Rice & Butternut Casserole with Cranberries and Pecans
- 1 cup wild and brown rice blend I am using Lundberg
- 4 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt divided
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper divided
- 1 medium butternut squash peeled and cut into a 1" dice
- 1 large onion rough chopped
- 2 tablespoons thyme fresh
- 1 tablespoon sage dried
- 1/2 teaspoon marjoram dried
- 3/4 cup fresh cranberries or 1/2 cup dried
- 1/2 cup pecans
- 1/2 cup Parmesan aged, grated
** to enhance the wild rice during cooking
- chicken stock homemade, use what rice package instructions call for
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika optional
- Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat oven to 425°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and set aside.
- Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 9 x 13 casserole dish and be sure to grease the sides all the way up. Set aside.
** I cook my rice in homemade chicken stock to give it richness and depth of flavor; add the smoked paprika, if using, directly to the cooking liquid and cook according to package directions, adding butter and/or salt if called for.
- Cook the wild rice. You will end up with about 3 cups cooked.
- While the rice cooks, toss the diced squash in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Sprinkle with half of the salt and half of the pepper. Turn out onto the prepared baking sheet and roast in the oven for 15 minutes undisturbed. The squash should caramelize and begin to turn golden brown. If it requires and additional few minutes to brown, it's okay to let it go longer. You are looking for that caramelization.
- Once the squash is caramelized, toss the squash to loosen from the foil and expose additional sides to the heat. Scatter the rough-chopped onion over top and place back into the oven for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from oven, but DO NOT turn off heat.
- In a large mixing bowl, toss the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, the fresh (or dried) cranberries, pecans, and herbs with the remaining salt and pepper. Add the rice and mix well. Add the roasted butternut squash and toss to combine.
- Turn the mixture out into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and place into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and casserole begins to brown on top.
- Garnish with additional cranberries and a handful of fresh herbs if desired.