This is a new recipe for us from one of our favorite cookbooks, Almost Meatless.  The nice thing about it is that it can be a great vegetarian dinner or you can add a bit of crumbled sausage to it if you’re feeding people who can’t fathom why you would ever have a meal without a bit of animal protein (I, admittedly, used to be a card-carrying member of this group!).  But really, doesn’t sausage make everything better?  I digress!

If you plan ahead and cook the squash, the rest of this meal is pretty easy and straightforward.  And for a cold, foggy fall or winter night it’s the perfect comfort food…actually a little reminiscent of Thanksgiving (which lovely flavors I personally think shouldn’t be relegated to just once a year!)  Pair it with a full-bodied Chardonnay (we chose Frog’s Leap 2009) and a week night meal turns into an intimate occasion worth savoring!

2 small butternut squash (or 3 acorn squash, which is what we used)
1 TBS plus 2 tsp olive oil
salt & freshly ground pepper
⅓ cup (about ½ oz) dried porcini mushrooms
3 cups hot water
1 cup barley
2 tsp olive oil
4 oz sweet italian (or your favorite) sausage (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 TBS)
1 small shallot, minced (we didn’t have shallots and used onions which worked fine)
1 TBS chopped fresh sage
¼ cup dried cranberries, chopped
2 TBS balsamic vinegar
½ cup toasted pecans, chopped


Preheat the oven to 375 F

To prepare the squash, rub the insides with the 1 TBS oil, salt & pepper and transfer to a large roasting pan that will fit all the pices without crowding.  Roast in the oven, cut side down, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the squash is fork tender.

Meanwhile, let the mushrooms steep in the hot water in a medium saucepan or bowl for about 15 minutes.  Remove the rehydrated mushrooms, chop and set aside.  Bring the soaking water to a boil add the barley and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the barley is cooked through (tender, but still has a bite to it).

While the barley cooks, add the 2 tsp oil to a sauté pan over med-high heat. If using sausage, cut and remove the sausage casings and crumble the meat into the pan.  Cook the sausage until it begins to brown.  Add the garlic, shallot, sage, cranberries & reserved mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes.

Drain the barley and add to the filling mixture in the pan.  Add the vinegar and stir to combine thoroughly with the rest of the ingredients.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Keep warm until the squash is ready.

Stuff the cooked squash with the hot barley mixture.  Sprinkle with toasted pecans and serve.