Winter squash is the best squash. There. I said it. You can keep your zucchini and yellow summer squash. I’ll take kabocha, butternut, acorn, or honeynut any day. Whether diced and roasted, puréed into submission, or grilled and tossed in a winter salad, there is something about winter squash that just gives me the warm and fuzzies.
One of the absolute best uses for smaller winter squash like acorn or kabocha is, in my opinion, something like the following recipe, which you can riff on to no end, depending on what you’ve got in your fridge/freezer/pantry. I happened to have some ground pork from my latest ButcherBox delivery, as well as some dried cranberries leftover from a recent baking project, and, of course, no dish would be complete with the addition of one of my spice blends. Here, I’ve utilized my Italian Countryside Spice Blend, a combination of porcini mushroom powder, rosemary, thyme, garlic, onion, salt and pepper that lends a depth of flavor that I just love.
Stuffed Kabocha Squash
2 small/medium Kobocha squash, sliced in half through the stem and seeded
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 lb ground pork (Feel free to substitute Italian or breakfast sausage or keep it vegetarian by using chopped mushroom instead.)
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 teaspoons Italian Countryside Spice Blend (you may need more or less depending on whether you’re using a seasoned sausage or a plain ground pork.)
1 fuji apple, peeled and diced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup Panko bread crumbs (Cooked brown or wild rice, barley or farro would work great here too.)
1 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese (Parmesan will work just fine as well)
salt & pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400°.
Slice a very small portion off the rounded sides of your squash halves. This should make it so they sit like bowls and won’t tip over. Rub the inside and the rims of your squash with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Place the squash halves cut side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes until tender.
While the squash is baking, prepare the stuffing. Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add pork and brown all over, breaking the pork into small pieces as you go, 5-7 minutes. Remove browned pork to a paper-towel lined plate. Add another tablespoon or so of olive oil if your skillet is dry, and add the onion, celery, garlic and Italian Countryside Spice Blend. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion and celery have softened, about 5 minutes.
Return the pork to the pan and mix until well incorporated. Add diced apples and cook for an additional 2 minutes until the apples start to soften but not long enough that they become mushy.
Remove from heat and stir in dried cranberries and breadcrumbs, along with 3/4 cup pecorino romano cheese. Stir until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Once the squash have finished baking, remove from oven and flip them over so that they look like bowls. Spoon the pork mixture into the squash bowls, packing the stuffing lightly until filled.
Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, until the edges of the stuffing have started to brown slightly.
Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese and serve. A simple mixed greens salad with a light vinaigrette would be an excellent accompaniment, along with a nice Pinot Noir.