We're big winter squash fans, and before we start getting e-mails, we'd like to clarify one little point: Acorn squash is in the summer squash family, along with zucchini, but in the kitchen, it is often treated like winter squash, such as butternut.
For centuries, along with corn and beans, it was a star on Native American menus. It is thought to have originated somewhere between Mexico and Guatemala and was consumed throughout the Americas.
Christopher Columbus brought squash back to Europe from the New World.
Before we jump right into the recipes, here are a few of my thoughts (and we all know that when it comes to my thoughts, there are only a few) about selecting and storing our acorn friend.
Although available year-round, the prime growing season is early fall through winter. Even though they can get quite large, the best acorn squash weigh between one and three pounds. When they get much bigger, you will wind up with a drier, stringier squash.
When it's just right, squash should feel heavy for its size. It should have no soft spots and should have a dull-looking skin.
Like winter squashes, acorns will last more than a month in a dry, cool space. But since you don't really know how old they are at the store, try to use them within a week of your purchase.
Unless you have already peeled and cut it up, acorn squash shouldn't be refrigerated -- and you have to cook it before it can be frozen.
If you haven't toasted the seeds before, you've got to give it a try. They're great on salads, in pasta or just for munching. Because of their unique nutty, slightly sweet and peppery flavor, they are extremely versatile and very user-friendly.
I'll share some recipes that use acorn squash in interesting and different ways, but I strongly suggest that you do your own experimenting. Try roasted squash puree as a pasta sauce, or thin it out slightly and use it for a sauce to top meat main courses. Give acorn squash a try in an array of desserts, or as a stuffing for Cornish hens.
Make a hash for poached eggs, or dice roasted squash in a salad. Or make a variation of hummus dip. I believe that when it comes to acorn squash, the possibilities are endless . . . but if all else fails, you know how to make the soup.
ACORN SQUASH BREAD
- 1 medium acorn squash
- 1/2 ounce yeast
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/3 cup warm water
3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1 large egg, whisked
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 2 medium carrots, shredded
- 1 medium zucchini, shredded
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Cut the squash in half. Scoop out and discard the seeds. Place cut side down in a baking dish and cover. Cook in the microwave on high for 10 to 13 minutes or until the squash is fork-tender.
Scoop out the cooked squash and puree until smooth. You should wind up with 1 1/2 cups of squash puree for two loaves.
Stir the yeast and sugar into the warm (110-115 degrees) water. Let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in the buttermilk, egg and butter. Stir in the squash puree, carrots, zucchini, orange zest, all-purpose flour, two-thirds of the whole-wheat flour, the spices and salt.
Mix in enough of the remaining whole-wheat flour to form a soft dough. Knead on a floured surface until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place in a greased bowl and let rise, loosely covered, in a warm place until doubled in size (40-60 minutes). Punch down. Knead on a floured surface for about 5 minutes. Shape into two loaves and place in greased, 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pans.
Let rise, loosely covered, until doubled in size. Bake in a pre-heated, 400-degree oven until loaves are golden and a toothpick comes out clean (about 40 minutes). Cool on wire racks. Makes two loaves.
ACORN SQUASH AND SPINACH GRATIN
- 2 1/2 pounds fresh baby spinach
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter plus additional for greasing pan
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Rounded 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 large acorn squash, peeled, halved and seeded
- 1/2 ounce finely grated
- 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano (or Monterey Jack ) cheese
Bring 1 inch water to a boil in a 6- to 8-quart pot over high heat. Add spinach and cook until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water.
Thoroughly squeeze spinach in small handfuls to remove excess moisture, then coarsely chop and transfer to a bowl. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in an 8-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat, then cook onion and garlic, stirring, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add onion mixture to spinach along with salt, pepper, nutmeg and cream and stir to combine. Put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 3-quart shallow baking dish (13-by-9 inches, don't use glass).
Cut squash to separate bulb section from solid neck section, then cut lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Layer squash and spinach mixture in baking dish, using about one-fifth of squash and one-fourth of spinach for each layer, beginning and ending with squash.
Sprinkle top layer of squash evenly with cheese and dot with remaining 2 tablespoons butter, then cover directly with a sheet of parchment or wax paper. Bake until squash is tender and filling is bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove paper and bake gratin until browned in spots, 10 to 15 minutes, or broil 3 inches from heat, 2 to 3 minutes. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
ACORN SQUASH AND CRIMINI MUSHROOM LASAGNA
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 cups chopped onions
- 4 shallots chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 pound crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, sliced (about 3 cups)
- 2 pounds acorn squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 5 1/2 cups)
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
- 4 tablespoons sliced fresh sage, divided
- 3 15-ounce containers whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 4 cups grated mozzarella cheese, divided
- 2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- 5 large eggs
- 1 9-ounce package no-boil lasagna noodles
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil, then add onions, shallots and garlic. Saute until soft, about 6 minutes. Increase heat to high, add mushrooms and cook until tender, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes. Season with kosher salt and pepper. Transfer mushroom mixture to bowl; set aside.
Add squash, 3 tablespoons thyme and 3 tablespoons sage to same skillet. Cover and simmer over medium heat until squash is just tender, about 6 minutes. Uncover and cook until squash is very soft but still retains shape, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Mix ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella cheese, 1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese and remaining 1 tablespoon thyme and 1 tablespoon sage in large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper; mix in eggs.
Brush 13-by-9-by-2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with oil. Spread 1 cup ricotta mixture over bottom. Arrange 3 noodles on top. Spread 1 3/4 cups ricotta mixture over noodles. Arrange 1 1/3 cups squash mixture over that. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup mushrooms and 1 cup mozzarella. Top with 3 noodles, then 1 3/4 cups ricotta mixture, half of remaining squash, 1/2 cup mushrooms, and remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Repeat with noodles, 1 3/4 cups ricotta mixture, remaining squash and remaining mushrooms. Top with 3 noodles. Spread remaining ricotta mixture over; sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Cover with oiled foil.
Bake lasagna, covered, 35 minutes. Uncover and bake until heated through, about 25 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Makes 8 servings.