quintessential fall – quinoa and apple stuffed acorn squash
I’ve never made acorn squash before. In fact, I doubt I’ve ever knowingly eaten it before. But I’ve seen them stacked waist-high in the grocery store with their dark green skin and one bright orang-ish spot like a little Halloween blush. Not too big — maybe a pound or two. Just the right size for Scott and me, right?
So I bought one — imagining myself adding chunks to a soup or stew, or roasting it to a golden, caramel-y crispness. My inner Top Chef was still coming up with prep ideas, so I let it sit on my counter for a few days while I went through my ruminations.
Unbeknownst to me, while I was brainstorming, Scott was having flashbacks to his childhood. He had spied the acorn squash sitting on the counter and was horrified — recalling an overcooked, swimming-in-sweet-syrupy-goo squash that he had to eat if he wanted to play with the neighbor-kid next door. One of those, “you can’t play with Johnny, until you finish your supper” moments. He hadn’t eaten acorn squash since.
That’s what he was thinking as I set the platter in front of him last night. Oops! How was I to know? I reminded him that this dish in no way resembled the one he had back then. In fact – it had bacon in it! Well, pancetta. Same difference.
In fact, it was a great blend of flavors and textures. The stuffing was crispy on the outside, tender and chewy in the center. The apples were more tangy than sweet. The pancetta maintained its crispness and also added a saltiness that went really well with the apples.
He tried it and nodded. It wasn’t “the bogeyman under the bed” as his boyhood memories foretold. In fact, it was pretty tasty! I thought it could have used a bit more sweetness (maybe some golden raisins?), but after his rant on overly sweet squash, I left it alone.
By the way, if you have a frightening food story from your childhood, I’d love to hear it!
The sweet savory filling in this acorn squash, makes every bite satisfying. A great fall side dish!
- 1 acorn squash
- 6 teaspoons olive oil divided
- 1 teaspoon whole coriander seed
- 1 teaspoon whole fennel seed
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 cup cooked quinoa
- 1 apple peeled and finely diced
- 1 slice pancetta 1/4" thick, diced
- 4 large fresh sage leaves rolled into a cigar, very thinly sliced*
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves chopped
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese grated
- extra olive oil for drizzling before baking stuffed squash
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Using a sharp chefs knife, carefully cut the acorn squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Set the cut side down on a cutting board and halve it again lengthwise to form little squash boats. Place on a roasting pan and coat each slice with a teaspoon of olive oil.
In a mortar and pestle (or spice grinder) grind together the coriander and fennel seed. Mix in the kosher salt and brown sugar, stir to combine. Sprinkle the spice blend over the squash, dividing it equally amongst each slice. Bake for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a small skillet over medium high heat. Add pancetta and cook until browned, stirring occasionally. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to a folded paper towel to drain. Add sage and thyme to pan and cook until crispy, 1-2 minutes. (Herbs will sputter and pop in the pan, so be careful.) Reserve fat in the pan and transfer herbs to the same paper towel as the pancetta. Add the diced apples to the pan and cook over medium high heat until apples are slightly softened, about 2-3 minutes.
In a medium bowl combine cooked quinoa, pancetta, herbs, apples and parmesan cheese. Toss to combine. Fill acorn squash with quinoa stuffing (it's okay if some falls to the baking sheet - the crispy bits are the best part). If stuffing seems dry, drizzle a little extra olive oil over the squash boats. Heat in oven for 10-12 minutes, until cooked through. Serve.
You can ask the deli department to cut a quarter inch slice of pancetta for you. I usually get 4- quarter inch slices and use them like bacon to add to salads, roasted vegetables etc. I always have some on hand.
You can change this dish up if you wanted it to be vegetarian, by eliminating the pancetta. Make it vegan by also skipping the parmesan cheese. Since those two ingredients add a salty element, consider adding in some chopped olives or capers -- and golden raisins for a sweet hit.