When September turns to October, we move from the ease of grilling and porch dining to the comfort foods of colder weather, eaten in the warmth of the kitchen. A favorite autumn dish is one I developed many years ago using Butternut or Acorn squash. When the Butternut squash comes in from the garden, this is one of the first dishes I make. With its unique flavors and spectacular presentation it very well suited for a special dinner party. For a vegetarian version, substitute falafel for the meatballs. The meatballs become gluten-free when oatmeal is substituted for the bread crumbs.
Maple-Glazed Butternut Squash Stuffed with Meatballs
4 small winter or acorn squash
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 lb. lean ground beef
¼ c. bread crumbs
1/2 c. plain bread crumbs
1/4 c. finely chopped onion
1 Tbsp. fresh marjoram, finely chopped (1 tsp. dried) or 1 Tbsp fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dry)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 c. maple syrup (grade B)
1/2 c. apple cider
1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a 9 x13 heat proof baking dish by filling with a ½ inch of water, and adding the 1 tsp. of salt. Cut winter squash in half and remove seeds. Cut a small piece from back of squash so it sits flat when placed on its bottom. Place cut side down in water. Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until just tender.
While squash is baking prepare sauce. In a small saucepan mix together garlic, maple syrup, cider, pepper flakes, and mustard. Bring just to a boil and reduce heat and simmer until the sauce is reduced by half. Do not allow the sauce to come to a full rolling boil, as maple syrup when it boils makes a huge, sticky mess.
Prepare the meatballs. Mix the hamburger with chopped onion, ¼ c. bread crumbs, egg, and marjoram or thyme. Divide the mixture evenly into four portions. Shape each portion into a meatball. Measure the ½ cup of bread crumbs into a saucer or shallow dish. Roll meatballs in the bread crumbs coating evenly. Place a skillet on the stove over medium heat. Pour in about 2 Tbsp. olive oil. When heated, add the meatballs and brown evenly on all sides. Add more olive oil as needed. When the meatballs are done, remove them to a paper-towel covered plate and set aside.
When squash in baked to just tender, remove it from oven. Remove the squash from the pan. Drain water from pan. Replace squash in the pan, cut side up. Place a meatball in each cavity. Baste squash and meatballs with sauce. Return to oven. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the squash and meatballs have finished cooking, basting frequently with remaining sauce.
When the squash is cooked, remove the pan from the oven. Using two spatulas transfer the squash to a serving platter. A rice medley and a crisp cucumber salad make nice complimentary side dishes. Bon appetite!