Delicata Squash Stuffed with Quinoa, Sausage and Cranberries

Vegetarians, I’m sorry. You know that I love you, that I am a staunch ally, a friend of all veggies. But I decided this week to give my meat-loving spouse a break and a treat. The two main recipes are meat-heavy, just like him. But! They are also highly customizable and can easily be made meatless and still delicious, I promise.

So please don’t go?

Meanwhile, it’s fall. And how, besides the date on the calendar, do I know it’s fall? Three things: 1. I dream about boots and tights and cashmere; 2. I am suddenly covered in cats (those little heat whores) and 3. I want to cook and eat nothing but one-pot meals.

And while this doesn’t qualify as one-pot exactly, it somehow belongs in the same category for me because it’s self-contained. Not pot, but squash. A pot you can eat. Even better!

Recipe #1: Delicata Squash Stuffed with Quinoa, Sausage and Cranberries

Serves 2-3

3 small Delicata squash

3 links hot or sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing and crumbled

1 cup quinoa, rinsed well in cold water

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

3 tbsp parmigiano cheese, grated

1/4 dried cranberries

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped

salt & pepper to taste

2 cups water or stock

I think I originally found this recipe in a Wegman’s magazine (and I’m realizing that it might seem, from the amount of words I dedicate to the place, that I am a Wegman’s spy. I’m not. It’s just my happy place, so it tends to figure into a lot of my writing/talking/eating.) a few years back, but I’ve long since lost track of it, so this is an approximation that works pretty well like I remember.

What I remember most is the feeling of utter shock that Paul not only consented to eat it* –“it” being cooked winter squash–but also really enjoyed it. When I told him that this week’s featured ingredient was quinoa, he is the one who reminded me of this recipe.

*I don’t meant to imply Paul doesn’t eat any vegetables. He does, and he even enjoys many quite a bit. But unlike me, he never craves them. A little meat–a lot less, in fact, than he used to eat– with his veg just makes him a much happier eater.

First, preheat your oven to 375. Slice the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. You could keep them and roast them, like I forgot to do, dammit.  Drizzle with olive oil and place, cut side down, on a cookie sheet.

Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until a sharp knife falls easily through.

Heat a saute pan over medium-high and add sausage. Cook until well-browned and remove. If you’ve used pork sausage like I did, you probably won’t need any more oil. But poultry sausages are leaner, and so you’ll want to add a little olive oil to the pan so you can saute your onion and garlic.

You do know you should always read a recipe all the way through before attempting to follow it, right? Good, because I forgot to talk generally about quinoa  (pronounced KEEN-wah) at the start of this post, and now’s as good a time as any.

Quinoa, though it functions culinarily like a grain, is not a grain but a seed closely related to spinach and beets. It’s full of iron and calcium and all sorts of magical phytochemicals (you can look that up). It’s a great source of protein and dietary fiber. Seriously good stuff.  In its natural state, though, it has a bitter, soapy-tasting coating that must be removed before eating. Most of the quinoa you can buy in stores has already been processed thusly, but a good rinse under cold water won’t hurt any.

To prepare, think 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water or stock. Just like rice, bring it to a brisk boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, and cover for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat but keep the lid on for five more minutes. Fluff and serve.

I had planned to prepare the quinoa separately, but then realized I could take advantage of my onions and garlic and all those lovely bits of sausage already in the pan, so in those healthy, happy grains went. Covered with 2 cups of water and about twenty minutes later:

At this point, you want to add the sausage, cranberries, parsley and cheese, plus salt and pepper to taste.

Fill the squash with the stuffing and place back into the oven for ten minutes or until heated through.

The contrast between the spicy sausage, the sweet-tart cranberries, the nutty quinoa and the buttery squash is as lovely to taste as the whole thing is to look at. This is a pretty dish for sure and a perfect way to welcome my favorite season.

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What’s your favorite fall food?

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