Enough with the turkey already! I’m working on new ways to use the four boxes of winter squash my garden produced this year. I love all the old ways I use the squash, but I like to play in my kitchen. This is my latest endeavor with acorn squash. The Mighty Bear Hunter and I really enjoyed it. I used our bear sausage, but you could use any ground sausage mix, although I would recommend going fairly lean with this one, as the squash will absorb any fat released from the sausage. I only used one squash for Dennis and me, but I wrote the recipe for four people. Just decrease the proportions by half if you’re empty-nesting like us, or double if you still have hungry teenagers at home.
Sausage-stuffed Acorn Squash
2 large acorn squash, halved lengthwise and seeds removed
1 lb. ground breakfast sausage* (See note)
½ cup chopped onions
½ cup chopped green, red, or yellow bell peppers (optional, and you could certainly add other vegetables)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large or extra-large egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup milk
½ cup plain bread crumbs OR oat bran* OR gluten-free almond flour bread crumbs
2 tablespoons dehydrated veggie flakes (optional)
¼ teaspoon salt (or more to your taste)
¼ teaspoon black pepper (or more to your taste)
Pinch of red pepper flake (optional)
Saute onions, peppers, and garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil until tender. Set aside to cool. Rub squash cavities with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix ground sausage, egg, milk, bread crumbs and seasonings. Mix in sautéed vegetables. Line a pan large enough to hold the squash with foil. Arrange squash halves so they will sit level. (Ball up aluminum foil to use as wedges if needed.) Fill squash cavities with meat mixture and smooth into mounds. Brush sauce (below) over meat mixture. Bake uncovered for 60 to 75 minutes at 375 degrees, or until meat juices run clear, and flesh of acorn squash is tender. If desired, brush tops of meat with leftover sauce 15 minutes before end of cooking time.
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup spicy brown mustard
2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce
1 tablespoon maple syrup
Mix together. Brush sauce on meat.
Notes: I use breakfast sausage in this recipe because it is commonly flavored with sage, fennel seed, and red pepper flake, all of which go well with the semi-sweet squash. (Acorn squash is the least sweet of the winter squashes, in my opinion.) Our bear sausage is very lean. If I were using pork sausage, I would look for the leanest mix I could find or cut it with a lean meat like ground turkey. Alternatively, to get more fat out of a higher-fat sausage mix, you could brown the sausage, drain it and cool it, then mix the other ingredients into it before filling the squash cavities. If I were doing it this way, I would also precook the squash before filling it by roasting in a 400 degree oven for about 30 min. Then after filling the squash, reduce heat to 350 and bake until set and sauce is caramelized.
Before I decided to eliminate gluten and grains as much as possible from my diet, I discovered, quite by accident, that the best binder for meatloaf and meatballs is oat bran. Bread crumbs are the traditional binder for ground meats, but they can make for a tough loaf or ball. I’d been trying to increase fiber while reducing net carbs for a long time, so I turned to oats, but I found that whole oats affected the texture of the meatloaf and made it somewhat chewy. So one day when I went to the pantry to grab the oatmeal jar for meat loaf, I spied the oat bran jar. And I thought, hmmm. Well, why not try it? I used the same amount of oat bran as I would use of oatmeal, which is about 1 ¼ cups to 2 lbs. of meat. And I’m telling you, after that first attempt, I would never go back to either oatmeal or bread crumbs, because the oat bran binds perfectly and produces an incredibly tender meatloaf or meatball. And it adds more fiber than bread crumbs. Try oat bran in your next meatloaf or batch of meatballs, and I think you’ll see what I mean.
Of course, now that I’m trying to eliminate gluten from my diet, I’ve been using almond flour bread crumbs. I save the heels (which are small) of the almond flour bread in a bag in the freezer and then dry them when I have enough to make it worthwhile at 170-200 degrees in the oven on cookie sheets. When they’re dry, I pop them into the food processor and pulse until they are in crumbs. Then they go back in a plastic bag and into the freezer, ready to go for the next dish.
I served these sausage-stuffed acorn squash with a salad and a helping of kale and chard, the last from the garden. What a way to get your veggies!