Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Acorn Doesn't Fall...


Even though I always looked forward to pumpkin season, for a long time I never really understood what all of the fuss was about when it came to squash. Fellow vegetable enthusiasts seem to flutter and flock and fight over them at the farmers market, but I really only knew how to use the various varieties as a puree. I made soups and risottos, all of which I loved, but none of which seemed to deserve my waking up at the crack of dawn and elbowing my way through the throngs of people clamoring for a brightly colored squash at the local farmer's stand.

Eventually (and mostly due to my CSA) I learned that so many of the varieties of squash that were unknown to me were not only unbelievably good, but completely worth my time. The first to convince me was spaghetti squash, a miraculous, buttery, canary-hued squash that needs nothing more than a roast in a hot oven to become spectacular. It may look like your average squash, but it does something magical when scraped out onto a plate: the flesh transforms into long, languid strands, not at all unlike its pasta namesake, spaghetti. The texture is similar to al dente noodles, too, and the flavor sweet and mild.

Two other varieties have become frequent ingredients at my house. The first is delicata, another yellow variety whose thin skin is often speckled with green stripes and orange splatters. The flavor is somewhere between butternut and spaghetti squash, mild and very buttery with a silky texture. It's small and elongated, so if you're looking for a quick-roasting squash with great flavor, delicata is what you want.

The other variety I love is acorn squash, the beautiful, deep green squash (pictured above) with the lovely acorn shape. It has tough, deeply flavored flesh that takes quite a while to roast (about an hour), but actually requires very little effort. The dish pictured above is my version of a squash dish I had at Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. Theirs was halved and roasted until it was fall-apart tender, then one half was scooped out and made into a delicate, almost mousse-like puree, topped with roasted and seasoned acorn squash seeds. 

I made mine the same way and it was not only delicious but beautiful, and I must say, an impressive and festive dish that would look heavenly on a Christmas table. I generally try to avoid using the oven when cooking for the holidays because my turkey or whatever I'm roasting generally takes up residence, but if you're bringing something pot-luck style or have multiple ovens or a large oven, I would definitely recommend it. So the next time you see a new kind of gourd at your local market of farm stand, pick one up and give it a try. It's totally worth your time and effort.

Roast and Stuffed Acorn Squash

2 acorn squash, halved and cleaned, seeds reserved
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
extra virgin olive oil
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 Tbsp unsalted butter 

1. Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Drizzle squash halves with olive oil and season with cumin, clove, paprika and nutmeg. Season with salt to taste (I recommend being generous since it needs to permeate the entire squash) and place on a baking sheet and roast squash in the oven for 50 minutes to an hour, or until squash is fork tender and soft. 

2. Remove cooked squash from oven and allow a few minutes to cool until you can handle it safely with your hands (you could also do this with potholders on if you're in a hurry). Scoop out flesh from two of the squash halves and place them in a blender (you can do one half at a time if your blender is small). Add stock to blender 1/2 cup at a time until puree is smooth and silky.

3. Remove puree to a pot over low heat and fold in butter, stirring until fully incorporated, and tasting for salt and seasoning. Season remaining squash halves with black pepper and fill with the puree. Serve and enjoy!


**Note: you can keep the squash halves that are intact warm in the oven on low heat if you will not be serving this dish immediately.


The Food Hunter said...

I've never made acorn squash. I love your picture.

Anonymous said...

Acorn squash is SO GOOD!!! I've never made it, but my mom takes the "guts" and mix it with shredded cheese, then bake the squash for the allotted amount of time. It's delicious!