One of my most vivid food memories from when I was little was eating baked acorn squash filled with apples, sugar, and butter. It’s the sort of thing that sticks with you when your age is in the single digits – being allowed to eat something that tasted basically like apple pie, mushed into an edible golden bowl. It was one of the things I really looked forward to when fall rolled around, and was something that gave our family dinners, which I have already completely idealized in my hazy memory as these wonderfully cozy affairs a la Norman Rockwell (but which in reality I believe also involved quite a few lectures on why we should eat our vegetables, how unkind it is to mommy to say “yuck” when she has taken the time to cook you dinner, and how we really needed to polish our manners – proper use of the knife and fork, elbows off the table, do not burp…you need to know this because what would you do if you were invited to dinner with the king of Norway?!), an extra specially snug feeling. I swear, something about eating stuffed acorn squash tinges the evening with a friendly golden glow.
As far as I can remember, acorn squash was the only way we really ate winter squash growing up – I’m sure my brothers and I would have balked at anything else. And even with acorn squash, I really mostly liked the sweetened, buttery baked apples in the middle. To force the squash into myself, I added a new dose of butter and sugar each time I had scooped out and eaten the top layer. My how times have changed. Now I could take or leave a baked apple filling, but I’ll go nuts over squash. (In case that hasn’t been abundantly clear from the insane number of squash recipes I’ve been posting lately.) Though I’m very happy to eat squash out of the oven, totally undoctored, I still think it’s incredibly fun to stuff them because I am quite as delighted by having an edible bowl now as I have ever been.
I think this most recent stuffing is my favorite yet! And it was all because I had some breakfast sausage I needed to use up. Breakfast sausage has that spicy, sweet, salty thing going on that goes well with maple syrup. And if something goes well with maple syrup it’ll go well with winter squash because that is just the way the world works. I was inspired by the thought of New England style sausage and cornbread Thanksgiving turkey stuffings to toss together something of the sort with which to fill our little squash-shaped stuffing receptacles. From there I went with the basic construct of sweet, savory, pungent layered with more sweet, savory, and pungent. Squash, butter, sage, sausage, cornbread, garlic, raisins, syrup, Parmesan. It was a truly beautiful thing. So delicious. Like a preview for Thanksgiving. That is to say, much shorter and easier but with all the most important lines and plot elements, oh and a very dramatic narrator (but didn’t give away the surprising twist at the end!…). And it made our evening magically golden and homey. Acorn squash, I don’t know how you do it, but thank you.
- 2 acorn squash
- olive oil
- a couple of pinches of dried sage
- salt and pepper
- 3-4 breakfast sausage links or patties
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 cups (loosely packed) of 1/2 inch cubes of cornbread, toasted (you can make your own cornbread, and normally I would but we were out of cornmeal so I cheated and bought a corn muffin, which worked beautifully) – you could also use some other style of rustic bread
- a handful of raisins or dried cranberries (this would also be tasty with a couple apple pieces cut into small cubes)
- about 1/4 cup (or a little less) water or chicken broth
- a drizzle of maple syrup
- 2-3 Tbs. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat your oven to 375F. Cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Rub the insides of the squash with just a teensy bit of olive oil, then sprinkle them with dried sage, salt, and pepper. Place the squash cut sides down in a baking dish and bake them in the oven for 40-45 minutes, until the flesh is soft.
- In the meantime, melt a decent sized chunk of butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and the sausage, and fry it, breaking the sausage apart into small pieces, until it is cooked through. Turn the heat to low. Stir in the raisins (or dried cranberries), and cornbread and cook for a couple of minutes. Then, sprinkle with the water and drizzle with maple syrup (one Tablespoon or so), give the pan a couple of stirs and let it cook for another minute or two. Then remove it from the heat.
- Once the squash have baked for 40 minutes, take them out of the oven and carefully flip them over in the baking pan (using a heat proof utensil) so that the cut sides are facing up. Fill the hole in each squash half with as much of the stuffing as you can stuff in there, then sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top. If you have extra stuffing, you can bake it alongside (sprinkled with a little more cheese) in a small baking dish.
- Return the squash to the oven and bake for 10 more minutes, until the cheese is melted. Transfer the squash to plates and serve. I found that 2 squash halves for 1 person was a plenty good dinner, but it would also be lovely to have one squash half accompanied by a salad or some soup or maybe a pork dish.