This past Monday was the first annual National Food Day, a nation-wide campaign to change the way Americans eat and think about food. The purpose of Food Day is to encompass all facets of the food industry from sustainable agriculture, nutrition and health, to access and affordability.
To honor Food Day, I made a trip to Red Barn Farm Market. My plan was to take whatever I found at the farm and incorporate that into my entrée for the evening. Sounds simple enough right? No!
Everything there was amazing. The apples in all varieties, the pears, squash as far as the eye could see and in all shapes, sizes and color, pumpkins (lots of pumpkins), red potatoes, assorted peppers, tomatoes, celery root, mini brussel sprouts, eggplant, on and on and on!
It’s not hard to devise a menu based on the produce that was available. The challenge was to pick one dish, utilizing as many vegetables as possible all while paying the utmost respect to each component. One flavor couldn’t outweigh the other so everything had to be thoughtfully orchestrated.
Autumn Vegetables and Sausage stuffed Acorn Squash
- 4 acorn squash- tops removed and cored. (Keep the seeds. Wash them thoroughly to rid them of the stringy fibers of the squash and allow them to dry. While drying, season generously with sea salt.) Red Barn Farm Market
- 1 pound of Italian sausage (I would also entertain the idea of using Andouille or chorizo in this application. The flavor profile of the final product will change drastically but I don’t think in a negative way. Give it a shot; let me know how it goes.)
- 8 strips of bacon-Red Barn Farm Market
- 2 celery root, small dice- Red Barn Farm Market
- 3 Fuji apples, small dice- Red Barn Farm Market
- 2 leeks cut into thin rounds. Make sure you wash thoroughly under cold, cold water. - Red Barn Farm Market
- 1 bunch of kale, rough chop
- 2 cloves garlic, minced- Red Barn Farm Market
- 1 pint mini brussel sprouts, bottom hinge removed. Red Barn Farm Market
- 1 chipotle in adobo, rough chop
- 3 portabella mushroom caps, small dice
- 3 cups apple cider - Red Barn Farm Market
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
In a medium sized stockpot, render the fat out of the Italian sausage and bacon over a medium high heat flame. After about 8 minutes and constant stirring to ensure proper heat distribution, add everything but the cider and brown sugar. Sauté the vegetables with the pork components for about five more minutes. At this point, deglaze the bottom of the stockpot with the apple cider. When the apple cider has reduced by half, add the brown sugar. Continue cooking the stuffing until the mix has become somewhat dry, meaning when you scrape your high heat spatula, there should not be any residual streaks of liquid. The idea here is that the vegetables have soaked up all the cider goodness. Season with salt and pepper; remove the mix from the heat, transfer to a small sheet pan and cool.
When the mix has cooled, stuff the acorn squash. It’s certainly appropriate to get aggressive here. Make sure your squash is completely full. Place the squash on a sheet pan, cover with aluminum foil, and roast at 375-degrees for about an hour and 15 minutes. When the squash is fork tender, remove from the oven and allow it a few minutes to cool. Trust me, as tempting as it is to dig your fork into this cauldron of autumn goodness, it’s freakishly hot. This may be a good time to fire up your Ipod (Maxwell might be nice?), open up a few bottles of wine and light the fireplace.
To plate. Use a metal spatula and carefully slide it under the bottom of the squash. If you use too much force, you bring the possibility of tearing the bottom of the squash into play. Considering the cooking time, the moisture and tenderness of the squash, the nature of the squash isn’t the same as it was an hour and a half ago, so it’s essential that you exercise some finesse. Transfer the squash to a white plate and garnish.
To garnish the dish and you must, I chose a few finishing moves. First, I took my dried, salted seeds from the acorns, drizzled with a little olive oil and set in the oven for about 8 minutes at 375-degrees. I had a half empty bag of currants left over from a recent dinner, so when the toasted seeds had cooled, I added the currants to the seeds along with some nicely shredded parmesan cheese to make a simple trail mix. I topped the squash with the trail mix and hit it with a few artful splashes of reduced balsamic.