Sometimes Mother Nature tells you what to do. Not in a “clean your room!” sort of way. She’s more subtle, but still crystal clear. For instance, when you’re in the produce section of the grocery store, holding an acorn squash and thinking, “How should I cook this strange looking vegetable?” Mother Nature has the answer. You only need to cut the squash open to discover it.

What you’ll find in the center is a group of seeds held together by a mesh of squash string, surrounded by about an inch of dense, sweet orange flesh. When you scrape out the seeds in the middle, you’re left with the perfect natural pocket, just screaming to be stuffed and baked with something delicious.

At the grocery store, winter squash is often kept in a bin with all the different varieties, from spaghetti to butternut, all mixed in together. You’ll recognize an acorn squash, with its dark green skin, often splashed with vibrant swaths of orange, because it’s shaped like its namesake tree-nut, and typically resembles a grapefruit in size. When choosing a winter squash, look for a matte skin, with no cracks or soft spots and the squash should feel heavier than it looks.

Of course, you can cook acorn squash in a variety of ways. Steaming, sautéing, even grilling, are all good options, but its size (each half is perfect for one person) and shape make it ideal for stuffing, which is precisely what I decided to do in this week’s recipe of Wild Rice, Sausage and Apple-Stuffed Acorn Squash.

While wild rice is available all year long, it always comes to mind for me in the fall. Perhaps that’s because it’s harvested at the end of summer. Or maybe its heartiness makes me think of cooler weather. In this recipe, its natural nuttiness partners beautifully with the sweetness of the winter squash.

The filling also includes pork sausage, the sage-flavored type, the one like breakfast sausage, not the Italian variety. There are also cubes of sweet-tart Granny Smith apple. Gruyère cheese adds loads of flavor and helps to bind the filling together, while toasted pecans lend an irresistible crunch. Baby spinach rounds out the filling with a fresh-vegetable element.

It all comes together as the squash is in the oven, roasting until tender. Because the filling is already cooked and doesn’t need much time in the oven, it makes sense to precook the squash. Once the filling is spooned into the roasted squash, all you need is enough time in the oven to get it piping hot and brown the crispy panko breadcrumb and Parmesan topping.

The result is a sweet-savory meal that would satisfy not just Mother Nature, but your family, too.

 

Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at meredithdeeds@gmail.com. Follow her on Instagram ­at @meredithdeeds.