Ingredient of the Month: Squash by Mollie Katzen

For November’s Ingredient of the Month post, Mollie Katzen, author of Get Cooking and The Moosewood Cookbook, weighs in on a very timely topic: squash!

SQUASH FOR ALL SEASONS

Most types of squash are available most of the time, yet we still refer to some as summer squash (zucchini, yellow crookneck, pattypan) and others as winter squash (butternut, acorn, delicata). The categories really have more to do with characteristics than with seasons. Summer squash have thin, edible skin and very pale, tender flesh with negligible seeds (all of which traits are especially evident in smaller, younger specimens), and they cook very, very quickly on a stovetop or grill. They’re also quite perishable and need to be refrigerated. Winter squash, on the other hand, are encased in hard, inedible skin, tend to have golden- hued, sturdy flesh, and contain a pocket of seeds that you need to remove. (Not unlike when you make a jack- o’- lantern. In fact, pumpkins are a type of winter squash. But you knew that.) Winter squash have a long larder life, meaning you don’t need to refrigerate them; they will keep for weeks if stored out of direct sunlight. Winter squash is usually baked unpeeled, in seeded halves, and then the flesh is often scooped out and made into some other fine concoction. Rarely is it just presented on its own, playing itself, totally unscripted and with no makeup. And this is a shame, because “just plain” winter squash is a delightful thing— sweet from its own natural character, delicate in flavor, and full of excellent nutrients (most notably fiber and vitamins) with very few calories.

Acorn Squash Stuffed With Apple-Almond- Cherry Basmati Pilaf

Makes 4 servings

Acorn squash is a natural edible bowl that was born to be stuffed. Here, it’s filled with a fragrant pilaf of basmati rice, sweet onions, garlic, almonds, apples, and dried cranberries. Use plain raw almonds (not roasted, salted, or otherwise processed), chopped with a sharp heavy knife on a cutting board, or buzzed very briefly in a food processor.

They don’t need to be too fine—just coarsely chopped. Some people like the skin of cooked acorn squash. If that’s you, eat this with a fork and a sharp knife, such as a steak knife, to make cutting through the skin easier.

You can cook the rice and bake the squash at the same time. I’ve provided a simple rice method here. You could also use a rice cooker (follow the manufacturer’s instructions), but for this smallish amount, I recommend just doing it as described below.

  • 1 cup brown basmati rice
  • 1½ cups water (possibly more)
  • 1½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium acorn squash (about 2 pounds each), halved and seeded (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • ½ medium red or yellow onion, minced
  • ⅓ cup chopped almonds
  • ¼ teaspoon minced garlic (about half a small clove)
  • Heaping ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 medium apple, chopped (unpeeled)
  • ¼ cup dried cherries (halved or quartered, if large)

1. Combine the rice and water in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Then turn down the heat to the lowest possible setting (insert a waffle heat absorber under the pot, if you have one), cover the pot, and let the rice simmer undisturbed for 40 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, adjust the oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 400°F.

Line a baking tray with foil, and pour 1 tablespoon of the olive oil on it. Use your fingers to distribute the oil so that it coats the area where you’ll put the squash. Place the squash, cut side down, on the olive oil. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until you can easily insert a fork or a sharp knife into the squash from the skin side.

3. While the squash is roasting and the rice is cooking, place a small skillet over medium heat. After about a minute, add the remaining ½ tablespoon (that’s 1½ teaspoons) olive oil, and swirl to coat the pan. Add the butter and swirl until it melts into the oil. Add the onion, and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes, or until it becomes very soft and is beginning to turn golden. (If it appears to be browning too quickly, turn the heat to medium- low.) Add the almonds and cook them with the onions, stirring frequently, for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the almonds begin to toast and give off a lovely aroma. Stir in the garlic and salt, and cook for 5 minutes longer. Remove the pan from the heat.

4. When the squash is done, remove the tray from the oven, and set it aside. Turn the oven down to 300°F.

5. After 40 minutes of undisturbed cooking, you may now disturb the rice by fluffing it with a fork. Give it a taste. If it is a little too crunchy, add another 3 tablespoons water, and without fluffing or stirring it further, put the top back on and let it sit for another 10 minutes with the heat turned off. It will steam itself a little further and become more tender.

6. When the rice is done to your liking, transfer it to a medium- large bowl. Add the onion-almond mixture (using a rubber spatula to scrape in all the delicious essence that might otherwise be left in the pan) and toss until well combined. Add the apple and cherries, and mix until thoroughly combined.

7. Turn the squash halves over, so their cavities are facing up. Divide the rice mixture among the squash, using a soup spoon to fill the cavities; pack down the filling and then mound the top. (There will be a generous amount of filling. If it’s too much, you can snack on it or serve it as a side-dish-refill component of the meal. I assure you no one will complain.)

8. Cover the filled squash loosely with a tent of foil, and return the tray to the oven. Bake for about 10 minutes, or just long enough to heat everything through. (If you like, you can skip this step and just serve the squash halves as soon as you stuff them.)

Note: Splitting and Seeding Acorn Squash

Cutting an acorn squash, especially when you want to end up with two matching halves, is a process requiring both an appropriate knife and a few minutes of utter focus. Make sure the knife is very sharp (always, but especially here). Watch your squash-holding hand carefully as you steady the squash and insert the point of the knife about ½-inch deep into the side of the squash, directly into a groove between the ridges. After this initial cut, patiently rock the knife to coax the squash open, continuing to follow the groove. Keep at it, and at a certain moment the squash will split itself in half. Use scissors to loosen the stringy flesh holding the seeds, then scrape out the cavity with a spoon.

The squash is now ready to roast.

Click here to watch the demo video and be sure to check out the rest of Mollie’s great videos!

Comments
One Response to “Ingredient of the Month: Squash by Mollie Katzen”
  1. Elida says:

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