How to Cook Acorn Squash
Like many other vegetables, with acorn squash a chef can get as simple or fancy as he or she likes. Probably the most popular way to prepare acorn squash is simply to half it, spoon out the seeds, cut the halfs in half, put the whole on a baking sheet, put a small pad of butter in each little gondola, sprinkle on some salt and pepper, pop in the oven at 375 or 400 for an hour and a quarter or so, then serve hot. Simple, effective, and tasty - a typically American dish.
Picking Out an Acorn Squash at the Market
Picking out an acorn squash is fairly straight-forward. Although they are remarkably consistent there are a few things to watch out for. If the skin is shiny, it is a sign that the fruit was picked too early (or that the grower has applied wax - which is not bad - just makes the squash prettier). A riper squash will be more flavorful and even somewhat sweet. If there are knots in the skin it could be an indication of a flaw in the flesh that does not cook well. Oversized acorn squash may be stringy. The best green squash will have a bit of orange in it, indicating perfect ripeness. Too much orange may mean the fruit is over-ripe, again yielding stringy flesh. Of course, soft spots are very bad and indicate rot.
How to Cut an Acorn Squash, Safely
Perhaps the most difficult thing about acorn squash, as well as other squash (especially Hubbard squash), is that they are so hard when raw, making them difficult to cut. There are several ways to go about it. First, place squash in a microwave for two or three minutes (stab first to prevent explosion, and let cool afterward). It should be soft enough to cut through easily. Second, use a cerated knife to saw through. Finally, using a large butcher knife positioned along one of the long indented valleys of the fruit, hammer the back of the knife with a cloth covered hammer until the fruit splits. Then split the acorn squash the rest of the way by prying it open. Cutting an acorn squash can be dangerous, so be patient, and most of all careful!
A Few Acorn Squash Recipe Ideas
A slight variation on the basic theme is also a classic, and appeals to the sweet-tooth. This recipe, mapled acorn squash, requires the addition of a teaspoon of brown sugar and about a teaspoon of maple syrup for each quarter. Don't forget the small pad of butter. Some like just a sprinkle of salt with this, but it is by no means necessary. Again, bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes at
400° Fahrenheit (204° Celsius).
For a different take on lunch, try some acorn squash soup. This has all the sweet flavor of the squash, coupled with the savory notes of the fall season. Most soups involving winter squashes will require the squash be cooked first, then processed. Spices can include those generally associated with savory dishes such as cumin, salt, and pepper. Or may be those generally used with pumpkin pies like cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.
Acorn squash seeds can be toasted in the same way pumpkin seeds are. After scraping seeds from the center of the squash, rinse thoroughly, making sure to remove any stringy pulp. Place the seeds on a baking sheet over-night to dry them off. Toss the seeds with a bit of olive oil or butter and then spice. Garlic powder, salt, pepper, powdered onion, pepper, or even a medley of these spiced can be applied. Bake for about an hour at
250° Fahrenheit (121° Celsius). Acorn squash seeds are good for several months stored at room temp in an airtight jar or sealed bag. They may be good for up to a year in the refrigerator.
Like other squash, the flower on the acorn squash is edible. The flowers can be fried, made into soup, and stuffed. Acorn squash flowers can even be chopped up and baked into cornbread.
Whether purchased at the market or grown in the garden acorn squash can provide interesting and innovative dishes for company or down-home family meals.
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