Roasted Acorn Squash with Venison Sausage, Wild Rice, Pinon Nuts and Apple

Photo and Recipe By: Neal Zeller, Recipe Contributor 

Servings: 4
Prep and Cook Time: 1 hour
- 1 medium acorn squash (green, yellow or orange)
- 1/2 lb. venison or elk sausage, bulk. (I have already burned through my bulk sausage so I removed the casing from two venison sausages and and used that.)
- 1/2 cup cooked wild rice
- 1/2 cup roasted, shelled pinon nuts. (I'd bet chopped walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts would work as well.)
- 1 medium apple
- olive oil
- apple cider
- maple syrup
- salt and coarsely ground black pepper

1. Cut raw acorn squash into 3/4" slices/rings across the flutes or bumps to create the cavity for the stuffing. Remove the seeds and membrane from each slice. Lightly coat all surfaces of the squash with olive oil. Place squash in a shallow roasting pan and roast in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until softened. Poke a fork or toothpick in the flesh of the squash to determine if it has roasted long enough. When cooked, remove pan from oven then set aside.

2. In a heavy bottom pan, saute the venison sausage over medium heat until it is nicely browned. Break up the sausage fairly fine. Deglaze the pan with a little apple cider. You can deglaze with a number of acidics including wine, balsamic vinegar, whiskey, orange juice or beer. As I'm using apples in this recipe, I figured apple cider made sense. Drain browned sausage on paper towels.

3. Lightly coat the pinon nuts with olive oil. Place in a heavy bottom, oven-proof pan and roast in a 325 degree oven for about 15 - 20 minutes. Stir the nuts often. Pinon nuts contain a lot of resin and will burn easily so keep a close eye on them. You can also pan saute the pinons on the stovetop as well. You want a light golden brown color when they're done. Remove from oven or stove.

4. Peel, core and dice 1 medium apple into pieces about the same size as the browned sausage and pinons. I used a Honeycrisp apple, but Granny Smith or other baking apples will do fine.
Mix cooked sausage, roasted pinons, apple and cooked wild rice in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. The sausage already had enough salt and plenty of black pepper, so I didn't add any additional seasoning at this point.

5. Fill each ring of squash with the sausage mixture. Do this on the same roasting pan. Press firmly into the cavity with the back of a spoon. Drizzle a little maple syrup over each filled squash and return to a 350 degree oven for about 15 - 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and with a thin spatula, carefully slide each stuffed squash to a warm plate. Drizzle a little more maple syrup for garnish and dig in.

About Neal Zeller
There's not a lot I can add to what others, far more eloquent than I am, have written about hunting.

I hike, backpack, cycle, run, fish and hunt. And although all of these recreational pursuits - even that term falls short - add something to my life, none of them contribute more than hunting does. No other experience engages more of my senses and amplifies my life as time spent pursuing game. Animals who have spent their lives in remarkable landscapes, eluding harm, and eluding me, deserve my respect. And they have it.

I hunt, and I also eat. It's important for me to be at least partially responsible for the deaths that sustain my own life. We all owe that, at a minimum, to our food sources.

I worked in the food and beverage industry throughout high school and college, both in the front and back of the house. Wait staff and line cook. The level of craft, skill and passion by real food professionals is astonishing. And it's really hard work. There are plenty of parallels between chefs and hunters.

So when I can combine hunting, food preparation, cooking... and eating, I'm all over it.

[Photo: Arizona, Unit 24A Javelina Bow Hunt. 2011.]

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Like us, Neal Zeller is a regular guy who loves to fish, hunt and cook. If you have a great fish or game recipe you'd like to submit, send it to 
Thank you Neal for sending in this wonderful recipe!