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Tricks make preparing squash a treat

This time of year, I can’t go grocery shopping without coming home with at least one squash. This week I bought acorn squash and I’m in autumn comfort food heaven. Squash are in season, delicious, versatile, frugal and fabulous.

Some people tell me they find preparing squash intimidating. I get it; the skin is hard to cut through and then there’s all those gooey seeds.

I felt the same way until I learned a few tricks. First, for hard-skinned squash, if you pierce it a few times and microwave for two to three minutes, they’re much easier to cut in half. Second, everything is easier to cut with a sharp knife, particularly squash. If you can only upgrade one thing in your kitchen, invest in a quality chef’s knife.

Lastly, to easily remove the seeds, use an ice cream scoop or melon baller. The sharp edges of those utensils actually cut through the stringy stuff making clean removal a breeze.

Armed with these tricks, preparing squash becomes a treat.

Acorn squash can be baked, microwaved, sauteed, steamed or made into soup. One half squash makes a nice individual serving as a side dish or you can stuff it to make a complete meal. For today’s recipe, let’s oven roast for a lightly caramelized, sweet and buttery tasting squash.

How to roast acorn squash

Arrange oven rack in the lower-middle position of the oven. Preheat to 400 F. Begin by washing the squash. When you slice into your squash, any nasties on the surface of the skin will be dragged through the flesh and that’s bad. Slice the squash in half, working from the tip toward the stem. You don’t need to cut through the stem, it’ll split when you get close. Scoop out the seeds and place, cut side up, onto a baking sheet or baking dish.

How long? Since the size of squash vary from 2-3 pounds, the roasting time will also vary. Check for doneness beginning at 50 minutes. It’s cooked when it’s soft and easily pierced by a fork.

When cooked, the squash will have liquid in the center. Let the squash rest to reabsorb that liquid.

Sweet or savory? Acorn squash can be prepared either sweet or savory and both are wonderful. For a sweet squash, rub the exposed surface of the squash with butter and sprinkle with a little salt. Place a half tablespoon each of butter and brown sugar (or more, I won’t tell) in the center and roast, uncovered. You can also add maple syrup and/or cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice.

For savory squash, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast. Optionally, you can place a little fresh herb, (sage, rosemary or oregano) in the center with a pat of butter or splash of oil and roast uncovered.

To turn a squash into a complete meal, fill the center with stuffing, or stuff the center with filling. I’ll leave that for you to decide. Either way, here’s a master recipe you can vary to your heart’s content to make scrumptious stuffed squash dinners all season long.

MIX AND MATCH STUFFED

ACORN SQUASH

Yield:one squash or two servings

What you’ll need:

1 acorn squash

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

1-2 cups vegetables

½-1 cup grains

½-1 cup cooked protein

¼ cup optional add-ins

Here’s how:

Roast squash according to directions above. While the squash is cooking, prepare your stuffing. Depending on the size of your squash you’ll want 2-3 cups stuffing.

In a skillet, sauté 1-2 cups any diced vegetables, such as onion, garlic, celery, peppers, zucchini, mushrooms or spinach; you can use practically anything. This is a perfect use for leftover vegetables. Add ½- cup cooked grains, such as white or brown rice, rice blends, barley or quinoa. Next, add ½-1 cup protein to the mix. Examples are sausage, hamburger, chicken and soy-based vegetable crumbles. Yet, another use for leftovers.

Lastly, add optional goodies to customize your dish. You could add cheese (Parmesan, mozzarella, feta, pepper jack) some crunch (nuts, sunflower seeds, pepitas) fresh herbs, dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, apricots).

Stir it all together in the skillet. When the squash is cooked, stuff/mound the filling into the squash and return to the oven for 10 minutes. Serve with a flourish and devour.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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