Squashes were the first veggies I ever prepared stuffed. The first ones I made (in 1985) were acorn squash stuffed with cranberry sauce, following a recipe for my then-brand-new first microwave. They were a big hit, and I made them many times. But for some reason, I never ventured beyond that particular dish until I moved to the UK 15 years later. Since then, however, I have experimented with peppers, eggplant (aubergine), cabbage leaves and more. The stuffings I use cover quite a broad range, including meat-based or starch-based with or without meat included, and are often just thrown together with whatever I have to hand.
This particular time, I happened to have some cross-pollinated squashes from our allotment: part acorn-like winter squash and part zucchini (marrow) (and that’s another story!). The shape said winter squash, but the raw flesh didn’t look so rich. I wanted a stuffing that would not overwhelm mild squash flavours, but would also leave us feeling satisfied if the cooked veg ended up being very bland and watery. The combination I settled on would work well for any firm squash, which is what is most readily available in the winter.
Portions given are per person:
|1 small||Winter squash (1/2-1 pound)|
|2 ounces||Ground beef (or other meat)|
|up to equal volume||Cereal crumbs (stale is perfectly ok); blitzed if you prefer them finer.|
|1 Tablespoon||Onion, chopped small|
|1/2 Teaspoon||Hot chilli pepper, diced fine|
|1 1/2 Tlb||Leftover pasta sauce (you could dilute ketchup); use more if your meat is very lean, less if it is high in fat.|
- Preheat oven to 350F/180C/gas mark 4.
- While oven is heating up, poke squashes well in a few places to pierce the skin (I use a carving fork for this), then microwave for about 2 minutes on high. (If doing several squashes, you can safely increase this to 4 minutes. See in my sidebar what happens if you don’t poke hard enough, or leave them in too long.) You are only partially cooking the squash, which will slightly soften the skin but more substantially reduce oven baking time.
- Slice off the ‘cap’, scoop out seeds. If the squash is too round on the bottom to stand flat, take a sliver off the bottom to flatten it.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the ground meat, crumbs and flavouring vegetables plus any desired seasoning if you’re substituting ketchup for the pasta sauce.
- Add pasta sauce to reach desired texture–a bit like meat loaf. You need some excess moisture to help cook the squash.
- Loosely stuff the squash, replace the cap and secure with toothpicks (cocktail sticks).
- Bake for an hour to fully cook through.
- Serve with a simple green vegetable on the side.
1. This dish can be made in bulk, and frozen individually. Reheat direct from frozen for half an hour at the same temperature as you originally used.
2. If you aren’t ready to eat as soon as the squash is done, it will keep well in a warm oven for you.
3. For a summer-squash variation, total cooking time will be considerably shorter. Omit the microwave step, and check for doneness after half an hour in the oven.