Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Stuffed acorn squash

Last year, I tested a stuffed squash recipe and I was so unhappy with it that I never bothered writing about it. Now that I have a great recipe to share, I'm ready to talk about why it failed.

My previous attempt involved delicata squash stuffed with a mixture of onions, nuts, herbs and cheese. In concept, it was a beautiful recipe. In practice, it didn't quite work, in ways similar to why roasted stuffed turkey doesn't always work.

Acorn squash for stuffing

A baked stuffed squash is going to be tricky because you're combining two concepts that may require different cooking times. This is the same problem with a stuffed turkey--to be sure the stuffing is thoroughly cooked, you risk over-cooking the turkey. With a stuffed squash, since the filling is mostly already cooked, you risk overcooking the filling to ensure the squash is done (or undercooking the squash to ensure the filling doesn't burn). It's catch-22 unless you can get it just right.

Acorn squash
Arrange the squash in microwave-safe bowl as shown for cooking.

My results were a compromise between these two extremes, which means that neither the squash nor the filling was satisfying as I'd wanted: the squash, slightly undercooked, was too hard and the filling, slightly overcooked, a bit dry. There had to be a better way.

Microwave acorn squash
The squash came out of the microwave looking like this: thoroughly tender and slightly browned.

This stuffed acorn squash recipe addresses that problem beautifully: don't attempt to bake the squash stuffed. Problem solved! Here, the squash is cooked separately and the two halves are joined at the end. Does the dish suffer from this? Not at all. The resulting stuffed squash was beautiful and flavorful, with both the vegetable and its filling cooked just right.

Filling for acorn squash
This basic onion, mushroom and rice filling can be adapted as you please, perhaps some chopped nuts (hazelnuts? pecans?) a different cheese (parmigiano-reggiano?) or herbs (parsley?).

I hit on this idea from Martha Stewart's stuffed squash recipe. Her recipe finishes the dish under a broiler to melt its cheese topping. I incorporated the cheese into the filling, so this last step was not necessary. I also did not roast the squash. Instead, as recommended by America's Test Kitchen, I cooked it in the microwave, which was really easy and saved time.

Mushroom, rice and onion stuffed acorn squash

Stuffed Acorn Squash
Adapted in part from Acorn Squash Stuffed with Mushrooms and Rice by Martha Stewart

2 acorn squash, cooked in the microwave (see recipe below)
1 or 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, minced
8 oz. cremini onions, stemmed and finely chopped
Salt, to taste
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tbsp. chopped fresh sage
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup cooked white rice
1 oz. finely grated aged gouda cheese

1. Heat olive oil in a medium (10-inch) frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add onion and mushrooms, season with salt and thyme, and sauté until softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in the chopped sage and continue cooking until lightly browned, a few minutes more. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and immediately add freshly ground black pepper, cooked rice and grated cheese (the residual heat will melt the cheese as it's mixed in).

2. Place the cooked squash cut-side up on a serving plate. With a large spoon, fill the cavity of each squash half, pressing down gently to compact filling. Slightly mound filling for each (there should be just enough filling for the four halves). Serve immediately.

Simply Cooked Acorn Squash
Adapted from Acorn Squash with Brown Sugar by America's Test Kitchen

Note: Because I was stuffing the squash, I did not follow the final step of broiling the squash with butter and brown sugar.

2 acorn squash, halved and seeded, with bottoms sliced off so they sit upright if necessary
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup water

1. Sprinkle cut sides of squash with salt. Place cut-side down in a microwave-safe bowl so that the cut sides face out (as shown in the photo above). Add water to bowl. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Poke 4 steam vents into the top of the plastic.

2. Microwave on high until the squash is very tender, 15 to 25 minutes (mine was nicely done in 20). Remove from microwave (careful, the bowl will be very hot). Allow to cool slightly, then carefully remove plastic wrap.

*If you want to serve the squash by itself, here are the additional steps America's Test Kitchen included for serving with butter and brown sugar. Note that I did not test this preparation but am providing FYI.

3 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
1/8 tsp. salt

Adjust oven rack to uppermost position (about 6 inches from heating element) and preheat broiler. Melt butter, sugar and salt in a small saucepan over low heat until combined, whisking occasionally.

Transfer cooked squash cut-side up to a rimmed baking sheet. Spoon the butter/sugar mixture onto each squash half. Broil squash until brown and caramelized, about 5 to 8 minutes, rotating baking sheet as needed. Remove squash when done and serve immediately.


  1. Practice makes perfect. This was delicious. I loved the stuffing. I wish I was eating some right now. Your readers should also know that if you have a big appetitie like I do, you can eat the squash skin. Yum!

  2. My first question was: did Chris like it? Now I know.

    1. He's a good sport and has seemed pretty happy with what I've been making lately.