This is my favorite time of year.
In the season where everything is dying or preparing to hibernate or go dormant for winter, there is somehow an exciting tinge of hope for renewal in the air. Something that just stirs my soul about the crispness in the air, the vibrant colors that seem to explode out of nowhere in the trees, the faint smell of burning leaves.
When the nights turn cool again and I start to crave soup constantly, well that's about the time that I become obsessive about "seasonal" dinners and my beloved deep orange Le Creuset dutch oven. And while my perfect little pot helped me crank out some hearty lamb stew last night, our focus at present is the stuffed acorn squash that sits happily digesting in my belly in its fall festive splendor as I type. Hungry yet? Let's get to it. Here's what you do:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Split an acorn squash (carefully) end to end, scooping out the stringy flesh and seeds in the middle.
3. Cut a small sliver off the outside skin of each half so it sits level on a surface before seasoning the fleshy side with salt and pepper. Put half a tablespoon of butter in each half.
4. Place squash flesh side up in a roasting dish or casserole, and fill the dish with hot water to about halfway up the squash. Bake in the oven loosely covered with foil for about 40 minutes, or until tender.
5. Treat a small to medium onion to a fine dice and saute in 2 T olive oil with some bell peppers (if you have them on hand). I used frozen tricolor peppers from Trader Joe's. Also at this time add whatever meat you choose to add (if you want to add meat). This would be a great meatless dish. I used chicken olive artichoke sausages, but this would be great with ground beef, lamb, or really any kind of ground meat or sausage. Cook on medium until vegetables are soft and meat is cooked through.
6. While your veggie-meat mixture is working, and your squash are still in the oven, cook up some rice, couscous or quinoa. I am a sucker for those Near East seasoned couscous-in-a-box deals, so I highly recommend those. High on flavor, low on fuss, cooks in 5 minutes. I used the parmesan couscous, but if I had the wild mushroom kind, I DEFINITELY would have used that. (The earthiness would go so nice with this stuff).
7. Take your squash very carefully out of the oven so you don't scald yourself, for goodness sakes. Put each half on a plate.
8. Dump couscous/rice/what have you into the veggie-meat mixture and stir. I like to throw in a few tablespoons of raisins here. Toss in some spinach to wilt if you like. I left out the spinach tonight.
9. Scoop your stuffing into the hollowed out squash halves, using an ice cream scoop if you really want to be snobby about it. I like topping mine with herbed goat cheese (because it was in the fridge and almost gone) and some fresh parsley.
10. Stuff yourself with the stuffed awesomeness.
So that looks like a lot of steps. (I admittedly might have even listed two steps combined as one step just to see if you're paying attention.) Look. It's not a lot of steps, and it's all in all a pretty impressive dinner for minimal effort. On the table in 40 minutes (with downtime therein!), and depending on what you choose to include or omit, a pretty darn affordable meal.
On a personal note:
Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to continue with the blog. There is something so wonderful and gratifying about cooking and sharing it with others. It really means a lot to know there are people willing to endure listening to me pontificate and spew food-talk. I love you guys, and am happy to be back!