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Culinary kindred spirit sweetens stuffed squash

Stuffing small squash, billed in this week’s food section, makes for a meatless main course that’s satisfying on several levels. The recipe for Acorn Squash With Cheesy Rice and Poblanos with this week’s story riffs on the traditional use of squash throughout Central and South America and the American Southwest.

I’ve wowed cooking class participants with a curry-spiced, tempeh-stuffed delicata squash. Indeed, these dishes appeal to our desire for hearty comfort foods this time of year and a plate with strong visual presence.

Because my two young kids are still coming around to squash in general, I’m inclined to sweeten the deal for them with a couple of their favorite ingredients: sausage and cheese. Ground turkey, a staple in our house, also could be used in this recipe from Michael Symon, among my cooking kindred spirits for his use of pine nuts and cinnamon in this dish. If I added a few dried currants or golden raisins, the stuffing would closely resemble my family’s favorite meatballs.

Turkey- and Cheese-Stuffed Acorn Squash

1/2 cup pine nuts

3 acorn squashes, halved and seeded

Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey or sweet Italian sausage

1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place the pine nuts on a sheet pan and bake until lightly toasted, for about 6 minutes. Transfer nuts to a plate.

Increase oven temperature to 400 F. Line sheet pan with foil.

Place squash on foil-lined pan and coat exposed flesh with some of the olive oil. Season with a pinch of the salt and pepper and turn squash cut-side down.

Cook in preheated oven until squash is easily pierced with a knife, for about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, flip squash cut-side up, scoop about 1/3 of flesh from each and set aside.

Set a large heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil and heat to shimmering.

Add the turkey or sausage and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up meat, until lightly browned, for about 2 minutes.

Add the onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper and continue cooking until veggies soften, for about 2 minutes.

Add toasted pine nuts and the cinnamon and stir to combine. Remove from heat, add reserved squash and stir in the parsley and half of the cheese.

Divide meat mixture evenly among squash, mounding it into cavities. Divide remaining cheese over tops and cook until warmed through, for about 5 minutes.

Remove from oven, drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

— Recipe from “Michael Symon’s Fix It With Food” by Michael Symon (Clarkson Potter, December 2019, $30)

Tribune News Service photo