The second week of November has come up on us quickly, and it would be an understatement to say it’s merely been eventful. This time of year is one that craves comfort foods under normal circumstances. On top of an already busy and stressful time, I’ve been feeling under the weather this week and I need them now more than ever – maybe you feel the same. In that case, it seems all the more reason to share something hearty and beautiful that you can make and share with the people you care about: the first entree to appear on this site and the second installment in the current recipe series, An Autumn Affair: Apple and Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash.
I’ll start with the second best thing about this dish – its presentation. I absolutely love the look of anything that can be served in an edible vessel, and this one certainly dresses up for company. My pictures don’t do it justice, but the colors of the vegetables in the stuffing layered inside a green or yellow-patterned acorn squash look like something out of a magazine. It’s a little rustic, but in a classy, I-meant-to-do-this-kind-of-way.
Additionally, stuffed acorn squash is quite simple to make and incredibly hearty, making for both a great cold-weather entertaining dish or a weeknight family meal depending on your needs. The only thing to keep in mind is that it does require a lot of chopping, so if you don’t have a spouse, friend, or child to enlist as a sous chef, make sure you factor in the time needed to get it all done by yourself. If time is a factor though, you’re in luck – this recipe can easily be prepared ahead of time. I include instructions for that in the recipe below.
But the very best thing about this dish is its versatility. The recipe below is my favorite configuration (especially for entertaining), but stuffed acorn squash is a great way to use up whatever ingredients you have in your fridge in a new way. I learned the template recipe from Alana Chernila’s book, Homemade Kitchen: Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure. This is one of those cookbooks that will become a go-to for staple recipes, but can also be read cover to cover for inspirational ideas. Within a few pages, I felt like I’d found a kindred spirit in the kitchen. I’m a huge fan of this book and encourage you to take a look.
Back to the recipe – As Chernila points out, the main template is to have a green, a grain, and a squash. Swap in kale or swiss chard for the spinach (I’ve even used frozen peas); use leftover rice, quinoa, or other grains you have on hand; try a delicata squash instead of an acorn, or maybe even give dumpling or carnival squash a try. Use your favorite sausage too – chorizo has probably been our favorite so far, but the rabbit sausage I found in my freezer last week was almost as good. Use what you have left over from your CSA boxes or other weekly meals and no will ever know you were using your scraps.
On ingredients, one thing you may notice in my recipe is a lack of onions or garlic. On this I have a confession – I actually suffer from some pretty odd food sensitivities, and garlic and onion are both on my list of foods to avoid. This development a couple years back put me on a path to create my own recipes in my quest to satisfy my cravings. So, while I love the taste, you will rarely (if ever) see these and some other odd ingredients in the recipes I post. I’ll try to make a note if I think any of them would be a good addition, but since I can’t really test them personally I usually opt out. Nevertheless, I bet either of these ingredients would go well with the rice filling if you want to experiment for yourself. Here is my untested suggestion if you can’t live without onions: finely dice half a cup of onion and let it soften in the pan along with the carrots for a few minutes before adding the mushrooms.
Speaking of which, the carrots and mushrooms in this version of Apple and Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash make for a rich and earthy base to your rice stuffing. The chopped apple adds a wonderful sweet note to the dish that balances nicely with the savory-sweet of the squash. Salt to taste as you go, but other than that, it’s just a matter of finding your favorite cutting board, a bunch of prep bowls, and a good knife to get your started. This recipe has made it into my fall rotation, and I hope it makes it into yours as well.
Take care of yourselves out there.
Apple and Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash
Adapted from the Stuffed Winter Squash recipe from Alana Chernila's cookbook, Homemade Kitchen: Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure.
- 2 acorn squash, cut in half and seeded
- 2 teaspoons olive oil, plus more as needed
- 1/2 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon each salt and pepper, to taste
- 6 ounce sausage, cut into pieces - I prefer something spicy, like chorizo!
- 1/2 cup carrots, chopped
- 1 cup mushrooms, chopped
- 1 honeycrisp apple, chopped
- 2 cups spinach, sliced into thin strips
- 2 cups cooked rice
- 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
Preheat oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with foil. Rub the flesh of the squash halves with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Lay each cut-side down on the sheet and bake approximately 30-40 minutes (adjust to 20-30 minutes if using smaller or thinner-skinned squash, like delicata). You will know the squash is done when the flesh can be easily pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and raise the temperature to 425°F.
Once the squash has been roasting a few minutes, start the stuffing. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and fry until browned (5-10 minutes). Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the drippings in the pan.
Melt the half tablespoon of butter in the pan and add the carrots and mushrooms. Cook until the vegetables are softened (approximately 8-10 minutes), stirring occasionally. Mix in the apple and add salt and pepper to taste, cooking 1 minute. Add back in the sausage, then the spinach, sage, and rice and cook one more minute while tossing the ingredients to combine. Remove the pan from heat.
To assemble, turn the squash over gently so that the flesh side is up. You can either use the same baking sheet for the next step, or transfer the squash to more presentable casserole dish if you plan to serve family style at the table - Whichever you prefer. Fill the cavities of the squash with the rice stuffing, heaping it as high as possible. Sprinkle the cheese over the tops of each stuffed squash, and bake for 10 minutes.
You can make this recipe in advance! All of the chopping can take some time, so if you’d like to prepare the dish earlier in the day or the day before you plan to serve to guests (or family), follow the instructions through step #3. This will leave you with pre-roasted squash halves and the filling completely prepared. For best results, store the filling and the squash halves in separate containers in the fridge, and be sure the squash is able to sit flat and with enough room to “breathe” until use - in other words, in order to keep them presentation ready don’t squish the squash together. When you are ready to serve, simply place squash halves in a baking dish, fill each with the filling, and sprinkle them with cheese (as described in step #4). You may need to add an additional 5-10 minutes to the baking time depending on the size of your squash in order to take off the chill from the refrigerator (be sure to test the center of one to make sure it’s heated through!). Your guests will never know the difference.