For most of the year, cranberries are sadly ignored.
We know that they’re good for us- full of antioxidants and vitamins that help fight cancer, battle heart disease, and cure infections. But we’re less likely to seek out whole cranberries than we are to reach for them in their processed, sugar-infused juice form.
This is kind of a pet peeve of mine. Someone learns that cranberries possess certain health benefits. They then make an effort to guzzle down a few glasses of the red tinted fluid bearing the fruit’s name on its plastic container. Whatever benefits the cranberries lend is bound to be outweighed by all that added sugar (cranberry juice often has more sugar than soda)
But once or twice a year, cranberries in their beautiful, unadulterated form will pop up in produce sections across America. They conjure up an immediate association with Thanksgiving, and that alone makes up for the neglect they receive the rest of the year.
Cranberries grow on low, creeping shrubs that flourish in cooler regions of the Northern hemisphere. To protect the plants from cold winter winds, farmers use flooding techniques that also discourage pests and help when it’s time to harvest. Since cranberries are buoyant, they will float on water when shaken from their branches.
Easy to scoop up those little swimmers and get them quickly to our Thanksgiving feasts.
But don’t confine cranberries just to Thanksgiving dinner. Their tart sweetness pairs perfectly with so many of fall’s other favorite flavors. I stuck them next to a few of my own favorites, and they got along just fine.
Delicata squash have become one of my favorite things to roast this season. They’re small enough to be approached without a sledgehammer or a meat cleaver (that may or may not be the way I conquer larger winter squash), and their hard skin softens when you cook them, making them the perfect little vessels for stuffing with pork, kale, and feta cheese.
Pastured pork is one of my favorite meats to cook with, especially in the cold weather. The flavor is undeniably superior to conventionally raised pork, but that’s just a perk you get when you decide to purchase responsibly raised meat. The real reward comes in the health benefits that this type of meat will provide to our bodies, as well as the environment (not to mention animal welfare). Like humans, pigs convert sunlight into vitamin D in their bodies. Healthy animals who are outside soaking up all of those good rays will pass some of it on to us when we, in turn, consume them. The energy you receive from a happy animal (caloric and spiritual) can’t be compared to conventionally raised meat.
When roasted, the flesh and skin of the delicata get steamy and tender, and the high heat caramelizes the natural sugars, making a good thing even better. You can eat these boats plain, straight out of the oven. But if you can resist doing that, stuffing them with some browned sausage flavored with sage and kale really makes for a perfect combination.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll take any opportunity I can to turn on my oven this time of year.
- 2 large delicata squash
- 3/4 lb ground pasture raised pork
- 1/2 cup chopped kale
- 1/2 tsp ground sage
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- tbs olive oil
- 4 pats grass-fed butter
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta
- salt and pepper
- 2 cups cranberry
- juice of 2 oranges (1/2 cup)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 tsp salt
- pinch cloves
- tsp balsamic vinegar
- 3 tbs honey
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a sharp knife and a stable hand, slice delicatas lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and discard.
- Place squash boats skin side down on baking sheet. Dot with butter and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 45 minutes, until soft when pierced with a fork and lightly caramelized.
- While the squash roast, add cranberries, orange juice, water, and salt to a saucepan. Bring to medium high heat and let mixture simmer, covered, stirring occasionally. (You want to hear the cranberries start to pop) After about 10 minutes, add remaining ingredients. Reduce heat to low, cover, and allow sauce to thicken for another 5 minutes or so.
- Heat a frying pan to medium high heat and add a portion of the olive oil. Add chopped kale and a sprinkle of salt and saute for 3-4 minutes, until it has begun to soften. Add remaining oil, ground sausage, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, and ground sage. Saute an additional 5 minutes, or until sausage is cooked through.
- Arrange roasted delicata boats face up on a serving platter. Scoop 1/4 of kale and sausage mixture into each squash cavity. Sprinkle with crumbled feta and top with chutney.
*Chutney adapted from Food and Wine.
Don't let me do all the talking! Let me know what you think in the comments.