I love winter squashes and have written about them a lot over the years. There are so many unique varieties that are so beautiful and versatile. The dense flesh transforms into perfect creamy soups for chilly days–and you can even make the soup in the squash itself. Roast them and, as you chefs well know, you get some magnificent sweet flavors that stand on their own, can be part of a stew, or can be turned into filling for ravioli. The baseball-sized ones are a perfect chalice for stuffing. They’re a one-dish meal. And, hey, I love chomping on roasted seeds.

Making stuffed squash is pretty easy and, of course, you can riff on any ingredients that sound great to you or your clients. When I made my dish recently I chose acorn squash for stuffing and farro as my grain but rice, quinoa, barley… any of them will be wonderful. You don’t have to include meat, but I enjoy a flavorful sausage. Instead of pork, I went with sweet Italian chicken sausage. I had a box of crimini mushrooms, onions, garlic, and a package of Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio Shredded Cheese Blend, which is made up of asiago, fontina, parmesan, and mild provolone. Perfect. For me, sausages, mushrooms, onion, and garlic are a winning combo. You could also include sautéed spinach, pine nuts, raisins…the list is endless. You can add herbs or spices, but I think the Italian sausage has enough in them already and didn’t want to mask those flavors.


The first thing you do is par-bake the squash after cleaning it. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, pull out the seeds and then scrape the hole with a spoon to remove all the remaining fibrous material. Then put the squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet and add water to surround the halves up to about a quarter inch. Cover them with foil and bake in a 375-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until they are easily pierced by a fork.

While the squash is cooking you’ll make the filling. Put up your grains to cook. Chop your vegetables and fruit–I like adding apple or persimmon or citrus or pomegranate seeds to a savory filling. Then start sautéing.

I’ll give you a marvelous tip on sautéing mushroom slices that I learned from Alice Waters on a show she did many years ago with Julia Child. Leave them alone. That’s it. Add them to a hot pan with olive oil, spread them single layer, and just let them be until they brown. Then flip them over and leave them alone again. By not constantly stirring them you end up with beautifully caramelized mushrooms that taste phenomenal.

So, sauté the mushrooms and put them in a bowl. Sauté the onions and garlic, then add the diced apple and let them just brown. Add the sausage after removing the casing and poke it into small chunks as the meat cooks. When the sausage is browned, you’ll add back the mushrooms so the flavors can meld. Put the mixture back in the bowl, add your cooked grains and the cheese and mix well. The cheese will melt a bit to bind the ingredients. By then the squash should be cooked and out of the oven. Now some people scoop out the flesh, chop it up, and add it to the filling. Go ahead. I chose to keep it intact. Either way, rub a little olive oil on the inner surface of the squash and then fill the squash “bowl” with your very fragrant filling. Top with some more cheese and put them back in the oven (yes, keep the water in the pan) uncovered. You’ll cook the squash for another 15 minutes. Then serve or cover and refrigerate, then reheat before serving.

Stuffed Winter Squash with Italian Sausage, Mushrooms, and Farro
Serves 4

Ingredients
2 round(ish) winter squash, about the size of a baseball
3 to 4 cups of cooked grains
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sweet Italian or spicy Italian sausage (about 8 ounces), casing removed
1 firm apple (I like Granny Smiths for this), peeled and diced
Olive oil for sautéing and to rub the cooked squash
1 cup shredded cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Slice the squashed in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. You can reserve them to clean and toast as a snack. Using a spoon, scrape the remaining fiber off the surface of the squash flesh. Place all four halved cut side down on a baking sheet. Add enough water to rise about a quarter inch along the sides. Cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes, until a fork easily pierces the skin. Remove the squash from the oven and turn them cut side up. Reserve.

While the squash is baking, make the grains and the stuffing. To make the stuffing, add oil to a pan and turn on the heat to medium. Add just enough mushrooms to cover the bottom of the pan in one layer–you may have to sauté them in a couple of batches. Let the mushrooms cook on one side without disturbing them. As they shrink, they’ll brown. Then flip them over and let them cook on the other side until done. Add them to a large mixing bowl. Add more oil to the pan and sauté the onions and garlic until they turn golden. Add the diced apple and let them also cook to a golden color. Then add the sausage.

Crumble it as it cooks and let it cook until the pink of the raw meat turns to brown. Add back the mushrooms and stir together briefly. Put the mixture into the mixing bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Add the grains and two-thirds of a cup of the grated cheese to the stuffing mixture and stir together to thoroughly combine the ingredients. By now the squash should be out of the oven and ready to be stuffed. Rub a little oil on the cooked flesh. Then scoop the mixture into the hollow of each squash half. It’s okay if it overflows a little. Top each half with the remaining cheese.

Return the squash to the oven and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately–or you can let it cool and refrigerate covered. Before you’re ready to serve it let it come to room temperature and then put back in a warm oven to reheat.

How do you prepare winter squash? Do you have a favorite? 

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