Acorn Squash Stuffed with Rice, Pears & Cranberry Sauce
If your last experience with acorn squash included lots of butter and brown sugar (the only way my mother ever prepared them), I encourage you to take a walk on the savory side with these Stuffed Acorn Squash with Rice, Pears and Cranberry Sauce! These make a lovely side or can be a complete meal - with lots of mix 'n match options.
I remember the first time my parents grew acorn squash. I was 9 or 10 years old. We grew a dozen or so fruit trees but didn't have a lot of garden space for veggies. Tomatoes and beans always took priority over plants that vined and sprawled endlessly. Acorn squash are available in bush and semi-bush varieties - and we had just the spot for them! Two 3' square planters on either end of our backyard held young deciduous trees. They needed some company. Mama decided acorn squash would be perfect.
Emerald green leaves, vines, enormous golden flowers and then finally - pale green tiny squash that deepened to dark emerald as they grew. When the day came to harvest and prepare these aptly named squash, I was certain I'd never tasted any vegetable so delicious! A glop of margarine, a pile of brown sugar and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon undoubtedly contributed. My siblings and I always finished every bit of those golden green bowls put on our plates!
I've since learned to appreciate these beauties without all that accoutrement. Acorn squash are milder in flavor and less sweet than other winter squash. The texture of their flesh is not quite as fine as delicata or butternut and their shape makes them perfect for stuffing! With the right ingredients, you can balance these delicious squash without all that sugar and butter. I'll show you how I made these, plus give you some ideas for different options.
Since these stuffed acorn squash contain no meat or dairy, they only need to be baked once. The stuffing can be made while the squash bakes. If you'd like to make these in advance, you can bake the squash and make the stuffing ahead and store separately in the refrigerator. Briefly reheat before serving.
More things to LOVE about acorn squash:
~ they're the perfect size for stuffing
~ they're an excellent source of vitamins A, C and fiber
~ they're a good source of B vitamins and minerals
~ they contain roughly 40% more omega-3 fatty acids than omega-6 fatty acids*
* Most people eating a Western diet don't consume nearly enough omega-3 fatty acids. Most experts agree a 1:4 ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 or even a 1:1 ratio is ideal for optimal health. Some reports indicate Americans are eating 10-20x the amount of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids.
Why is this important? In brief, both Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids are essential, meaning they aren't produced by our body, so we must consume them through foods. Once consumed, our body converts these fatty acids into other types of fatty acids our body can use to maintain vital functions. For example, Omega-3 fatty acids make up cell membranes, maintain the nervous system, keep cholesterol in check and reduce inflammation. Omega-6 fatty acids can block the conversion of Omega-3 fatty acids into the types of fatty acids needed to maintain these functions. So it's a good idea to keep this ratio in check. Adding winter squash to your plate (or bowl!) is an excellent way to accomplish this.
Now let's get crackin'!
Total Time: 35-75 minutes Prep Time: 10-15 minutes, depending chosen ingredients Bake/Cook Time: 25-50 minutes, depending on grain used
Here's what you'll need to make 4 side-dish servings
• 2 cups brown rice, cooked*
• 2 acorn squash
• 1 large or two small pears
• 1 large shallot or 1/2 a purple onion
• 1/4-1/2 cup unsweetened apple cider
• 1-2 Tbsp fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, or parsley)
• 1/2 tsp fennel seeds (optional)
• 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
• 1/2 cup cranberry sauce
• salt and pepper, to taste
* I used volcano rice cooked with 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1. Preheat oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash and dry each squash, cut lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and pulp.
2. Lightly salt & pepper each half and place cut side down on the parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes, or until soft and edges have browned. Baking cut side down allows them to steam a bit, cutting down on baking time. This also develops nice caramelization around the edges without using any oil.
3. While the squash cooks, prepare the rice according to your package directions (if you haven't already made it).
4. Wash, dry, core and dice the pears and shallot (or purple onion).
5. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup apple cider, the shallots, pears, minced herbs, fennel seeds and salt & pepper to taste. Sauté until tender, 5-6 minutes, adding more apple cider to prevent sticking if needed.
6. Once the rice is ready, fluff it with a fork to loosen then add the pear mixture. Mix to combine, taste and adjust seasoning if needed. You can mix in the toasted walnuts or sprinkle them on top.
7. Once the baked acorn squash have cooled slightly, fill each half with 1/4 of the mixture (you may have some leftover depending on the size of your squash). Sprinkle with the toasted walnuts and two tablespoons of cranberry sauce for each. Enjoy!
Check down below for ways to change this combination up and create your own stuffing mixture!
Nutrition information is for half a large acorn squash, 2/3 cup of rice stuffing, 1 Tbsp walnuts and 2 Tbsp cranberry sauce.
The Squash Stuffing Formula:
2 parts whole grain
1.5 part sautéed veg and/or fruit*
1/4-1/3 part toasted nuts
1/8-1/4 part fresh herbs
* the smaller the size of the squash you'll be stuffing, the smaller the dice of fruits and veg should be to keep from over-powering and match the scale.
Optional: 1/8-1/4 part dried fruit, 1 part cooked white beans or cubed plant-based sausage (1/2 tsp dried fennel seeds and 1 tsp rubbed sage pair deliciously here)
Note: traditional bread stuffing works well for filling squash halves too, but I encourage you to venture into the delicious world of whole grains (those NOT ground and baked into bread)!
Whole Grains for Stuffing Squash:
• wild rice (not actually a true grain but a seed)
• black or forbidden rice
• burgundy, brown or volcano rice
• hulled (not pearled) barley
• buckwheat or kasha
• freekeh or wheat bulgur
Fresh and Dried Fruits for Stuffing Squash:
• pomegranate arils
• oranges, membranes removed
• cranberries, dried or fresh
• dried currants
• golden raisins
• dried apricots
Vegetables to Use for Stuffing Squash:
• onions, shallots or leeks
• fennel bulb
• fire roasted tomatoes
• dark leafy greens
• Brussels sprouts
• roasted root veg: beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga
Some Herbs and Seasonings to Use for Stuffing Squash (fresh or dried):
• oregano, Greek or Mexican*
• fennel seed
• cumin seed
• celery seed*
• caraway seeds*
* these are stronger spices, use in smaller quantities
These are just some ideas to get you thinkin' outside of butter and brown sugar when considering roasted winter squash. The possibilities are nearly endless!
Be sure to show me what you make! Tag me #chefcatherinebrown - I LOVE seeing what you make!
DISCLOSURES: None. This post was not created in affiliation with any product or brand. The opinions expressed are my own. I will only write about products I use and trust.
NOTE: All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use my photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own unique words and link back to the source recipe here on A Seat at My Table so credit is given where credit is due. Thank you!