Acorn Squash is Spectacular

            When the first squashes of fall and winter make their appearances at the farmers markets and the isles of the grocery chains the pumpkin is usually the one that is prominently featured and the others often find themselves relegated to the less “popular” section of the produce department. Discrimination, well, not really, but the pumpkin is the “cool” squash, the others are just well, squash. Carve that jack o lantern, toast those seeds and bake that pie. Nice, predictably fall like and dare I say it, boring.  I’d like to humbly suggest (that’s a polite way of saying, do what I say, please) that when you get ready to cook with squash, you substitute the acorn variety for pumpkin.

            Readily available year around the acorn squash is typically weighs from one to three pounds. It’s difficult to judge how good an acorn squash is by its outward appearance. It should feel heavy for its size with smooth, dull skin with absolutely no soft spots. Look for some partial orange on the skin as a sign of maturity. Too much orange coloring on the skin indicates an overripe squash which will be dry and stringy. A good balance between green and orange coloring is optimum.       As for the inside, the deeper the yellowish orange color of the flesh, the sweeter it is.

            Like the pumpkin, you’ll need to remove the fibers and seeds from the center of the acorn squash before steaming, broiling or baking it. Actually, the only draw back that I can find to the acorn squash is when you have to deal with peeling it. The ribbed shape makes peeling it raw a virtually impossibility, but, conversely, the shape more than makes up for this inconvenience by being perfectly shaped for stuffing.

Acorn squash is most often served cooked in its shell, stuffed or with a glaze. Cooking time depends on the size of the squash.  When a recipe calls for just the pulp I like to microwave it. I cut two whole squash in half, cover with wax paper and cook for 10 to 13 minutes on high. I let it cool and then peel it. You can bake it at 375 to 400 for 35 to 40 minutes until soft to the touch. Let cool and peel.
         To peel an acorn squash you’ll need a really sturdy knife to slice it in half. To make the squash easier to cut, pierce the skin in a few spots, place it in a microwave oven and heat on high for 2 minutes. Let stand for another few minutes before cutting. When halving, cut through the stem end to the point rather than across the diameter. To prevent halves from rocking on the baking tray, cut a small slice off the bottom to flatten it.
        Most winter squash, including pumpkin, acorn, buttercup, and butternut, can be used interchangeably in recipes.

1 pound peeled squash = 1 cup cooked, mashed
2-1/2 pounds whole squash = 2-3/4 to 3 cups pureed
1 pound trimmed squash = 2 cups cooked pieces
• 12 ounces frozen squash = 1-1/2 cups
Along with the standard green variety, you may also run across orange and white acorn squash varieties. Although available in many areas year-round, prime season for acorn squash is early fall through winter. Plan on using acorn squash within two weeks of purchase. Cooked acorn squash can be sealed and refrigerated up to four days.

APPLE COUSCOUS AND ACORN SQUASH
1 cup couscous
1 cup apple juice
1/4 cup prunes pitted and chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried apple

1/4 cup apple juice concentrate, thawed
1/4 tsp cardamom, ground
1 tablespoon maple syrup
4 acorn squash, halved and seeded
1/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped, optional
Place couscous in a small mixing bowl. Set aside. Bring apple juice to a boil in a small saucepan and pour over the couscous. Cover and set aside until the juice is absorbed. This will take 15 minutes. Stir in the fruit, apple juice concentrate, cardamom, and maple syrup. Set aside. Steam squash halves until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and place on a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Fill squash halves with the couscous mixture and bake for 20 minutes. Top with pecans and serve. Serves 8

CORNISH HENS WITH ACORN SQUASH
2 medium-size acorn squash (about 1-1/4 pounds each)
3 (1-1/4-pounds each) Cornish hens
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 cup apple cider or apple juice
1/2 cup pitted prunes (3 ounces)
2 (3-inch-long each) cinnamon sticks
Preheat oven to 375. Cut each acorn squash lengthwise in half; remove and discard seeds. Cut each half lengthwise into 3 wedges; cut each wedge diagonally in half. Remove giblets and necks. Rinse hens with running cold water; drain well. Lift wings toward neck, then fold them under back of hens so they stay in place. With string, tie legs of each hen together. Place hens, breast-side up, in 17 x 11-1/2-inch roasting pan; rub with salt and pepper. Arrange squash in roasting pan around hens. Bake hens and squash 30 minutes. Add apple cider, prunes, and cinnamon sticks. Bake 45 minutes longer, basting with pan juices occasionally, until squash is tender and juices run clear when fork is inserted between leg and body cavity of hens. To serve, arrange hens, squash, prunes, and cinnamon sticks on large platter. Skim and discard fat from pan juices; serve pan juices with hens. (Remove skin from hens before eating if you like.) Serves 6

From Good Housekeeping recipe archives

APPLE ACORN SQUASH SOUP

2 small to medium acorn squash or butternut squash, or mixture, about 3 cups mashed pulp

2 cups diced apple

1 cup diced onion

1 cup diced celery

1/2 cup diced carrot

2 tablespoons butter

3 cups chicken broth

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Cut the squash into chunks and remove seeds; steam over simmering water until tender. Peel, mash, and set aside.In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter; add diced apple, onion, celery, and carrot. Saute until onion and celery are tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add chicken broth; cover and simmer until vegetables are tender. Add the cream, salt, and mashed squash. Let the mixture cool slightly then, working with 3 or 4 batches, carefully puree in a blender. Pour back in the saucepan and heat through. Serves 4 to 6.

GINGERED PEARS IN ACORN SQUASH

3 medium acorn squash
2 ripe red pears, chopped (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
1/2 teaspoon hazelnut-flavored liqueur (optional)
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts*

Make a small cut into each squash; microwave at HIGH 1 to 2 minutes to ease halving squash. Cut squash in half crosswise; remove and discard seeds. Place squash, cut side up, in a 13″ x 9″ x 2″ baking dish.

Combine pear, brown sugar, ginger, butter, and, if desired, liqueur; spoon evenly into squash halves. Add boiling water to a depth of 1/2″ to dish. Cover and bake at 350° for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until squash is tender. Transfer squash to a serving dish; sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts.

*To remove hazelnut skins, cook hazelnuts with 1 teaspoon baking soda in boiling water 30 to 45 seconds. Drain nuts; rub with dish towel (skins come right off). Dry before toasting.

Yield

6 servings

CASBASH STUFFED ACORN SQUASH

“Vegetables, garbanzos, raisins and couscous in a lovely Moroccan broth taste delicious inside butter and brown sugar-brushed acorn squash.

2 carrots, chopped

  1 cup uncooked couscous

  2 tablespoons brown sugar

  1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin

  2 tablespoons olive oil

  2 large acorn squash, halved and seeded

  salt and pepper to taste

  1 cup garbanzo beans, drained

  1 (14 ounce) can chicken broth

  2 cloves garlic, chopped

  1/2 cup raisins

  2 stalks celery, chopped

  1 tablespoon butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350. Arrange squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet. Bake 30 minutes, or until tender. Dissolve the sugar in the melted butter. Brush squash with the butter mixture, and keep squash warm while preparing the stuffing. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the garlic, celery, and carrots, and cook 5 minutes. Mix in the garbanzo beans and raisins. Season with cumin, salt, and pepper, and continue to cook and stir until vegetables are tender. Pour the chicken broth into the skillet, and mix in the couscous. Cover skillet, and turn off heat. Allow couscous to absorb liquid for 5 minutes. Stuff squash halves with the skillet mixture to serve. Serves 4.

MAPLE GLAZED SQUASH RINGS

1 acorn squash, about 2 pounds

salt

pepper

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup apple cider

2 tablespoons raisins

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon maple flavoring
Slice squash into 1-inch thick rings, discarding seeds. Arrange in shallow baking pan. Bake, covered, in a 350° oven for 35 to 45 minutes, or until just tender. Season with salt and pepper. In medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir in apple cider. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly. Stir raisins, butter and maple flavor into the sauce. Spoon over squash. Continue baking, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until squash is tender.
Serves 4.

ACORN SQUASH WITH WILD RICE

4      small   acorn squash — halved widthwise

1 1/2 cups wild rice

2 tablespoons   sherry

1/2 cup  chopped onion

3   stalks celery — chopped

3 teaspoons minced garlic

1   green bell pepper — diced

1 red bell pepper — diced

1 apple — diced

1 cup corn kernels

1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs

1/3 cup grated Parmesan (optional)

ground black pepper

HERBAL CHOICES: thyme, basil, oregano, parsley, chives.

Preheat oven to 350. Cut a 1/4-inch slice off ends of squash halves to

prevent wobbling.  Remove seeds.  Bake, open side down, on a lightly

sprayed baking sheet until soft (40 min.). Cool. Rinse rice. Place in a medium pot with water to cover by 4 inches.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until tender (1 hour).  Add water as needed to keep rice from drying. Drain well.

Heat sherry in a large non-stick skillet. Add onions, celery, garlic and

peppers and cook over medium heat until browned (5 min.). Stir in apple and

corn and cook until apple loses rawness (3 minutes). Add rice and herbs and

cook for 1 min. Stir in cheese and ground pepper to taste.

Spoon rice mixture into a shallow baking dish and nestle squash halves into

it, filling each with some rice mixture. Bake at 400F for 10 to 15 minutes.

Serves 4.

CHICKEN CURRY IN ROASTED ACORN SQUASH

1 Small acorn squash (2 lbs.)

12 oz Boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 Red bell pepper, diced

1 tablespoon yellow curry powder

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup chopped Cilantro

1/2 cup milk or rice milk

1/4 cup golden raisins

1 sweet onion, diced

Preheat oven to 425. In a bowl combine the chopped onion chicken and bell pepper. Mix to combine and set aside. Cut squash in half, Rub with half of the olive oil and place on a baking sheet, center face up. Roast it until the flesh is soft and brown, about 25. While the squash roasts, heat the remaining oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. When it’s hot, add the chicken, bell pepper, and onion. Saute for 3 min, and then add the curry powder, milk and raisins. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Serve a scoop of the curry chicken inside the roasted squash.

Garnish with cilantro and serve. Serves 2. This recipe can be doubled or tripled.

If you prefere a richer mixture you can substitute heavy cream for milk.

Modified from a recipe found in Men’s Health Magazine

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