Thursday, October 14, 2010

Stuffed Butternut Squash with Chicken Meatballs, Barley and Sage

I'm ready for fall.  I've been ready since August when it was 115 degrees all day, EVERY DAY.  It was miserable.  I'm ready for sweaters, I'm ready for golden leaves, I'm ready for cooler weather, but more than anything, you know what I'm most ready for???  Pumpkin and squash season.  Have I ever mentioned how much I love these vegetables?  Their gorgeous color, their smell, their mellow and buttery taste.  Oh I am so ready for fall and pumpkins and sweaters... and this dish is sure to start the season off with a bang!

2 butternut squashes
1/2 cup pearl barley
4 cups chicken stock
1 onion
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 chicken breasts
1 egg
3 tbsp. mayonnaise
2 tbsp. rubbed sage or poultry seasoning
1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
4 cloves garlic
1 sprig rosemary (chopped)
1/4 cup fresh thyme (chopped)
1/2 cup fresh sage (chopped, and reserving some to garnish)
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (shredded)
salt to taste

The first thing to do is preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Next using a large sharp knife, cut the butternut squashes in half, lengthwise.  Place them on a baking sheet face up and let them bake undisturbed for about 30 minutes.  Don't worry about removing the seeds, they come up easier after the squash is baked.

Remove the seeds with a spoon.  With a small paring knife, cut a rim around the squash leaving about 1/2 " of a squash rim. The idea is to remove the squash in rustic cubes. You'll want to keep the shell in tact because we'll be stuffing it later and baking. 

Next, it's time to cook the barley.  In a small pot, add 3 cups chicken stock and the barley.  Let it come to a boil, then turn down the heat and allow the barley to cook for about 45 minutes on a low simmer.  Please note, I did not use the instant barley. 
While the barley is cooking, begin making the chicken meatballs.  I discovered recently that using a food processor is a great way to grind up meat.  I personally love the idea of knowing exactly what is going into my ground products. No mystery meat here!  I added the whole chicken breasts to the food processor.  Next roughly chop up the garlic, rosemary, thyme and about 3 tbsp. of the fresh sage.  Also add about 1 tbsp. of rubbed sage or poultry seasoning and salt.  Then add the mayonnaise.  I know that sounds really weird right? But you'll have to trust me on this.  If you don't add it to the mixture, the meatballs will turn out really dry since we're using boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  

Turn the food processor on and let it run until you have a smooth consistency.  Remove the lid and add the egg and bread crumbs. Let the food processor run until all of the ingredients are blended well. Now we're ready to form the meatballs.  Make them on the small side- I think they work best in this dish.  Then place them on a baking dish and bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes or until golden brown.

While the meatballs are baking, begin sauteing the onion in a deep skillet adding the 2 tbsp. of olive oil.  Add 1 tbsp of rubbed sage and the grated nutmeg. While that's cooking,  drain the barley well and add to the pot with the onions.

Next goes the chunks of butternut squash, the chicken meatballs, and 1 cup of chicken stock and season with salt to your taste.  Remember that the chicken stock has salt in it so go easy on the salt.

Ok we're almost done! Remember the shells of the butternut squash we reserved? Ok, now it's time to put this mixture back into the shells.  Top each butternut squash with a little shredded Parmesan cheese and bake in the oven until the cheese melts.  Garnish with roughly chopped fresh sage.

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