It never fails: every holiday season my daughter makes the same request for my Curried Butternut Squash Soup. And while this is quite the compliment, I try to remind her that I have a whole folder full of recipes for butternuts. She never wavers, and I always give in. This year will be no exception. But that concession doesn’t stop me from encouraging her to explore my other butternut favorites, like the layered casserole I made a couple Christmases ago, or the Blonde on Blonde Pasta that has become my personal favorite. In fact, I try something new with butternuts every year, including this year.

I started working on this skillet recipe because I was bored with the rice I’d been making—you know, my go-to method for rice that I toast in oil, simmer covered/untouched, and then chill down spread out in a shallow layer? I make it several ways: with coconut and cinnamon sorta Indian, with olive oil and oregano sorta Italian, with turmeric and curry sorta middle eastern. All good but all—at this point—boring!

Then I was watching Chef Joanne Weir in an episode from her newest PBS show Cooking with Confidence (weeknights at 7pm on CREATE in my area) where she made this simple rice side dish that used the peel of one whole lemon and a few herbs. That was really it, and her co-host/student raved about it. Why had this not occurred to me before? On it, I thought, but what to serve with it and what citrus to use—stick with lemon or go off on my own??????

Well, yeah, I chose orange. But this whole concept is perfect right now, when the citrus will be in season soon and at its best, when the holidays are all about that clean citrus taste and smell to quell the sugar, fat and fatigue. Not to mention that orange is a perfect complement to butternut squash, which is how I landed where I’m taking you now, to what I think will be your holiday standout dish of the year—the one everyone will be talking about long past New Years.

And, yes, there are a couple of steps, but you can make the rice ahead, and there are a couple of ways to pull it off, so it can fit with flexibility into your kitchen plan for the busy holiday meal. Let’s get started!

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If you are a vegetarian like me, this dish could be your main course; just add salad and bread and a slice of pie…or maybe a Roasted Apple Scone. Don thought  this dish would be perfect with turkey or chicken. So quite the crowd pleaser!

Options for serving the rice and squash

Since I am wedded to chilling down the rice, I made it one day ahead and then added it to the skillet with the squash to reheat just before serving. I have to say that I think the combined flavors of the Orange-scented Rice with the squash and carrots and fennel were near perfection. I wouldn’t serve this dish any other way. But you don’t need to serve it my way! Be brave.

If my friend Deb were coming to dinner, for instance, I’d serve the rice on the side because Deb does not eat grains. But if I wanted to have the convenience of making the rice ahead, I’d reserve a little vegetable stock to reheat it on the stove as the rest of my meal was coming together. This way, everybody wins, right? So you decide how to serve this dish and what will please the diners at your table. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to feeding family and friends. The only required ingredient…is love. Well, okay, and maybe salt.