It’s been done before. Crack open any food magazine, scroll through any blog with a bit of fall inspiration, scan the list of recipes that comes with your weekly CSA (you lucky dog, you!) and you’ll see them: multitudes of preparations for squashes, gourds, pumpkins – the fine, filling fruit of the fall.
I wrote that for alliteration’s sake, but guess what – “botanically speaking, squash is a fruit, being the receptacle for the plant’s seeds.” And who says Wikipedia isn’t a viable reference, besides every professor I ever had? (Actually, I think it’s getting more and more reliable as the years go by. Do you contribute or edit Wikipedia articles? With solid footnoted resources? If so, welcome into my open arms, personal hero!)
You’ve probably made it a half a dozen times this fall, but if not, please let me impress upon you the ease of preparing acorn squash for dinner. Five minutes hands-on time, and then the oven does the rest of the work.
First, when purchasing check for an orange spot on the outer surface – that’s where the squash sat on the ground and it’s a sign of ripeness. No orange spot could mean it’s not quite ripe. Buy organic if you can, because the rind is edible and an excellent source of fiber.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Rinse the outside of the squash, then carefully cut it in half from stem to point. Scoop out the seeds and stringy flesh with a spoon (a grapefruit spoon works especially well here). Place the halves on a rimmed baking sheet. Fill each squash cavity with a knob of butter, a tablespoon of brown sugar, a sprinkle of salt, and maybe some exotic spice. (I have about two lifetime’s supply of Shawarma spice from an overzealous shopping trip at an Armenian grocer, so that’s what went in mine).
Some recipes suggest adding a quarter inch of water to the rimmed baking sheet to keep things moist. I’ve done this sometimes and not others, but it does seem to help keep the butter/sugar mixture from sticking if it bubbles over. Cover the squash halves loosely with foil, then roast in the oven for about 25 minutes. Remove the foil, and continue to bake for another 20 minutes or until the squash yields easily to a knife point in its thickest part.
Let cool for a few minutes, then slice and dive in. If you’re able to wait, you could opt to dice up the cooked squash and toss with cooked quinoa, dried cranberries, and nuts (pistachios, pepitas, walnuts – sky’s the limit!) and a vinaigrette. This makes for a healthy, filling, and colorful lunch, the kind you have to keep far from your desk for fear you’ll eat it before lunchtime, and one that fully invigorates you to get through the afternoon slump.
My go-to vinaigrette recipe: a minced clove of garlic, 1 part apple cider vinegar (or a mix of your favorite vinegars, though balsamic changes the flavor pretty drastically) to 1 part extra virgin olive oil, a teaspoon of whole grain mustard, a drizzle of honey, salt, pepper and a vigorous shaking in an old glass screw-top jar.