Saturday, October 1, 2011

Crocktober: Acorn Squash Stuffed With Walnuts & Dried Fruit

Happy October, everybody! Welcome to my most favorite month. (December is more fun, but I look forward to Autumn weather all year round).

My Great Aunt Lois lived in upstate New York. As a kid that seemed like light years away from Cape Cod, but fortunately we saw her at least every 4th of July at my grandparents' house, about an hour from where my sister and I grew up. We didn't get to New York to visit her very often - only a couple of times that I can clearly recall - but I remember a few things about those visits quite well. For one, she was as sweet-yet-sassy a person as you could ever hope to meet, and she made a stuffed acorn squash that tasted practically like candy, stuffed with nuts, raisins and brown sugar. As a kid, they were the best-case-scenario of vegetables, and pretty fun to eat besides.

My Aunt Lois passed away about two and a half years ago, and while my Mother tells me that there is a written recipe for her acorn squash around, she told me that about ten minutes before I took mine out of the crock pot. Anyway, I'm certain that I didn't make these quite the way she would have. Still, I like to think she would be happy that I tried. For one thing, I'm sure hers were baked instead of cooked in a crock pot, but I'm still pretty sure that just about anything can be cooked in a crock pot. Sure and also fairly determined, to be fair. So bust out the crock pot already, it's Fall.

I cooked one acorn squash in my 2 quart crock pot. In a bigger machine you could do two or three at a time. You'll want to be sure that your squash stays upright, so you probably wouldn't want to do one little squash in a big 5-quarter or anything, though you could probably do it "open-faced," so to speak. The good news (for people with a big slow cooker but maybe not a lot of people to feed that day) is that this stuffing would also be super yummy in a butternut squash.

For an extra flavor boost, toast the walnuts first. Toasted walnuts are a great thing to have on hand for fall and winter recipes, anyway, so you might as well toast a bunch at once. I found out a bit late (ahem, MOM) that hers also had diced apple in there, which sounds fantastic and I will definitely do next time.

Since I made this for myself as a main dish, I added about 1 tablespoon of ground flax to the stuffing for extra protein, but this is totally optional. A little bulgur wheat, pearl barley, or soft whole-wheat breadcrumbs would also lend it more substance - just keep in mind that bulgur and barley will both expand significantly once cooked!

1 acorn squash
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoon brown sugar (I used dark brown, but I'm sure light is fine too)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (I used walnuts)
1/3 cup raisins, dried cranberries, cherries, chopped apricots, or a combination (I used mostly raisins with a Trader Joe's mix of some dried cranberries and dried pomegranate seeds)
Apple juice or cider, about a cup and a half (I used 100% juice)
1 tsp cinnamon (I also sprinkled a little on while I was eating it...)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1. Cut the lid off the squash, starting about an inch below the crown (the widest part, near the top) and save the lid. Scoop out the seeds and stringy guts. (The skins can be super tough. If yours is resistant, microwave the squash for a couple of minutes before cutting into it. And if you start the cut a little too high on the squash like I did, you might have to cut away a little of the flesh to get to the chamber). Cut the point off of the bottom so that it will stand up; just enough to create a flat spot.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine spices, butter and sugar, then add in nuts, fruit and a teaspoon or two of the cider or juice and spoon the mixture into the squash, packing slightly. Rest the lid on top. (Don't worry if you have a little extra stuffing. Put it in your oatmeal tomorrow. Voila!)
3. Spray the inside of the crock insert with nonstick cooking spray. Place squash inside, and pour in about a cup of juice or cider around (not in) the squash.
4. Cover and cook on low for 5-7 hours or on high for 2-3 hours. When the flesh is fork-tender, carefully remove the squash and serve. (Mine was perfect after 6 hours on low).

This is so, SO good. I can say that because it wasn't my idea. SO delicious. Definitely sweet though - you've got to be in the mood for it. But it's so tasty, so seasonal, and so freakin' adorable in its little acorn-shaped package. And obviously, you can cut back on the sugar and make up for it with spice.

There are probably a zillion different ways you could go with this idea, if you weren't so into the sugar-and-spice route. Rice with a little sage would also be a great base for a stuffing, or browned ground turkey, and with a little goat cheese sprinkled on top... Yum. So many possibilities. Why do I suspect that I'll be eating a lot of squash this year?

Quote of the Day: "Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower." ~ Albert Camus

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