Days of Squash and Pumpkins

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October 20, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Melissa Graham

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Every year, it seems to happen overnight. One day, we’re enjoying the last of the corn and savoring the fall crop of raspberries and then the next the season changes for good and autumn settles in. Although the days have been gradually getting shorter, the night abruptly feels long when we first fire our home’s heater and harvest the last of the obstinately green tomatoes.

As we pull out the corduroys and fuzzy wool sweaters, track down our gloves and coats, it finally feels right to turn to the steady and sturdy hard-skinned squash. Having spent months with the easy, yet elusive, flavors of summer, it’s comforting to spend the time to peel away the squash’s resilient rind and then melt away the rigidity of its flesh. These are the days of squash and pumpkins.

Despite the name, the squash that makes its way to the farmers’ markets of autumn is a warm-season vegetable that can be grown in most parts of the country. Unlike “summer” squash, hard-skinned squash are harvested when the seeds have matured and the skin hardened. At this stage of maturity, the squash can be stored throughout the winter, earning the designation “winter” squash. Another botanical oddity is that although the squash is a fruit of the vine, usually sweet and often used for dessert, we consider it to be a vegetable.

I’ll be spending a lot of time with the locavore’s thick skinned friend having picked up my squash sampler from Farmer Vicki of Genesis Growers on Saturday, a box full with varieties beyond the pie pumpkin and butternut squash. In addition to those and the acorn, we’ve got delicata (sweet potato squash), buttercup, red kuri, green and scarlet kabocha, dumpling and spaghetti. My mind is bustling with visions of lamb and pumpkin stew, sausage and apple stuffed acorn squash, pies and gratins.

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Interestingly, I was chatting with Farmer Vicki of Genesis Growers at Green City Market on Wednesday. Apparently, even though she sells some of the best squash at the market, her guys don’t eat it. Or more accurately, they will only eat it when it’s been doused with brown sugar. As a result, they make pretty terrible salesmen when it comes to a large percentage of her autumn inventory.

We were talking about squash recipes for squash-hating, farm workers when the idea of squash and sausage, together, came to me. I won’t suggest that this was an original idea, but it certainly was the first time that I’d given it any thought. So sausage and squash – what would complement these two? Certainly, onions. Garlic too. I’d need some herbs too – to give the dish a fresh taste, fresh parsley and thyme sounded right. Now the mixture had flavors that were rich, sweet, and fresh. It needed a counterpoint. Rummaging through my crisper, I found a tart apple and a bit of fresh celery for crunch. For sparkle, I added a touch of apple wine. Acorn squash served as the vessel. I didn’t want to overcook the sausage and vegetables, but I wanted the squash to be tender so I pre-roasted the squash at 350 F with about 2 cups of apple cider and 1/4 cup of apple wine in the base of the pan. The vegetable and sausage mixture was cooked on the stove top in a saute pan. When the acorn squash was about 1/2 hour away from being done, I stuffed the sausage and vegetables into its cavity, basted it with the apple cider, and returned to the oven. When the squash was tender, the dish was done and ready to serve. With a green salad, it was a simple and satisfying Friday night supper.

Sausage-Stuffed Acorn Squash
4 servings

1 acorn squash
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups apple cider
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup apple wine or other semi-dry white wine
1 1/2 Tropea onions or 1 small red onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove minced
2 small celery stalks, finely chopped
3/4 pound bulk pork sausage
1/2 large tart green apple, diced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons apple wine or semi-dry white wine
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish, drained

Preheat the oven to 350º F. Slice off the top 1 1/2-inch of the acorn squash. Remove the seeds, reserve for toasting if desired. Peel the top piece and cut into large dice. Slice off a small piece off the bottom of the squash to allow it to sit levelly in the baking pan. Set it into the baking pan and pour the cider and 1/4 cup of apple wine around it. Cut 2 tablespoons of the butter into small pieces and add to the squash cavity with the thyme sprigs. Ladle 1 cup of liquid into the cavity and put the pan into the oven. Bake covered with aluminum foil for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the squash is almost completely tender.

In the meantime, melt the remaining butter over medium heat in a saute pan. Add the onion and cook until softened, approximately 5 minutes. Add garlic, sausage and celery and cook for an another 10 minutes. Add apple and herbs and cook for 5 minutes or until the apple is slightly softened. Add wine and horseradish and cook, stirring for one minute. Add kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Turn off the heat. When the squash is almost tender, remove it from the oven. Stuff the squah with the sausage and vegetables. Baste with apple cider and return to the oven. Bake for a an additional 30 minutes or until the squash is tender. Serve.

This site is a great guide to unusual squash varieties.

For more of my squash and pumpkin recipes, including Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Muffins, Delicata Squash Gnocchi and soon-to-be-posted Red Kuri Squash Stew with Chestnut Crepes, check out Little Locavores.

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