Last week I used this blog as a motivator to try and branch out and experiment with a weeknight meal. Usually during the week we stick to a simple formula: Monday is pasta, Tuesday is turkey tacos, Wednesday we have fish, Thursday we usually have some kind of pork or chicken or a second pasta dish, and Friday is pizza. I typically save experimentation for the weekends. But I figured what better reason to try out a new recipe than farmgraze. Since it was still pretty chilly here and we were digging out from the weekend storm I was feeling like something comforting and cozy as I wandered through the grocery store on Monday and I settled on stuffed acorn squash. Now before you start thinking, vegetable soup, stuffed squash, this girl eats really healthy I must interject – please see the above list where I freely admit to eating tacos and pizza every week. Also, my preschooler’s afternoon snack all week was a brownie and on this particular day I let her wash it down with fruit punch. And (spoiler alert) the secret to my stuffed squash is SAUSAGE. So basically I cannot lay claim to any kind of clean-living mama award. However I do tend to be more creative with my vegetarian meals because I want my daughter to see that vegetables can have delicious and hearty flavors and that they can be the best part of the meal and not just a side. Ok so here we go with the recipe.
OVER-STUFFED ACORN SQUASH (makes 4 servings)
2 large acorn squash
½ medium yellow onion finely diced
3 sticks of celery finely diced
1 lb sausage
2 apples, cored and chopped
2/3 c. quinoa
Salt and pepper (to taste)
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground sage
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cloves
¼ tsp ginger
Applesauce or Maple syrup (optional)
Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. It doesn’t really matter which way you cut them but I find it easier to cut in the ridges of the squash rather than against them. Once you have your clean halves, rub each one with a small amount of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place them cut side-down on a baking sheet that has been lined with tin foil. Pop it all in the oven and roast them at 400 degrees until they are soft and just starting to brown slightly (mine took about 25 minutes).
While the squash is in the oven you can prepare your stuffing. This is where things got a bit tricky for me. My three-month-old has been a little cranky in the evenings lately because he gets tired around 5 pm and that isn’t really a great time for me to be upstairs in a dark room rocking him to sleep. So I have decided to wear him around the house while I prepare dinner. This is a great idea in theory but I find that chopping food is a bit challenging with an infant strapped to my stomach. So I thought I would use my mandolin to finely dice my vegetables. This proved to be a mistake because either my mandolin is sexist and only responds to my husband’s firm touch or it is not well designed for a left-handed person, either way it took FOREVER to chop up the onion. And I learned pretty quickly that cranky babies do not appreciate onion juice wafting into their eyes. Poor little guy had to spend the rest of prep time sitting in his vibrating chair and contemplating why his mother had chosen to torture him so. But we persevered and eventually I got my veggies chopped and while I have decided that I absolutely hate my mandolin I have to admit it did get them much more finely diced than I usually do.
After you have your onion and celery all cut up warm a few tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Take the onion and celery and sauté until the onions are translucent and soft, about 5-10 minutes depending on how finely you chopped them. Once they are cooked, remove them from the pan and set them aside. While you are cooking your veggies, I would recommend putting water on to boil and cooking your quinoa so things finish around the same time. I just follow the directions on the box of quinoa which is basically add quinoa to water using a 2:1 ratio of water to quinoa. Bring the pot to a boil and then cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until the quinoa has absorbed all the water.
Once your veggies are done and out of the pan, add the sausage to your skillet. I chose to use a standard grocery store Jimmy Dean sausage because I was trying to save money, but you could use really any kind you prefer, it just needs to be removed from the casing prior to cooking. Brown the sausage for another 5-10 minutes and then add back in the celery and onion and chopped apple. Add in your spices and cook it all together for about 5 more minutes until the apples are starting to get soft and a little golden brown. Once everything is cooked you can stir in the quinoa, flip the squash, which should also be done and out of the oven by now, and stuff.
There will be a lot of stuffing for each squash half so don’t be afraid to just really pile it on. My finished product had a big heap of stuffing in the center of each squash. Take your stuffed squash and pop it back in the oven at 350 for another 10 minutes or so, just enough time to get all the flavors to mix together and for the squash to become even a bit more tender and sweet.
After making this meal, which is WAY more complex than my usual weekday fare, I was feeling like a pretty gourmet chef. Well my daughter summarily brought me back down to earth by declaring after one bite that she didn’t like it. Apparently the sausage I had picked out was “too spicy” for her. After feeling discouraged for a few minutes I had a genius revelation of how to save the meal from a 4-yr-old perspective. I topped her squash with a little bit of applesauce and voila – kid approved sweetness for the win. She ate an entire single-serve container of applesauce with her squash, but my husband and I each had about 1-2 tablespoons with ours. If you don’t like applesauce or want to make it a bit less messy I think that a drizzle of maple syrup would also add just the right amount of sweetness. Of course if you want to make it really fancy you could cook a third apple, finely diced, in some butter, brown sugar, and maple syrup and make a little reduction to top off your squash. However you do it, with a little extra sweetness this turned out to be husband and daughter approved. Enjoy!
Words & Photos by: Rachael Viehman