Seriously Savory Acorn Squash

Sliced organic acorn squash on a cutting board
Sliced organic acorn squash on a cutting board

The smell of an oven-roasted acorn squash is like an air horn marking the start of the cool weather season. Packed with stuffing, served alongside turkey as a side dish, or even sweetened up as a hearty dessert, the acorn squash is a versatile holiday star.

Though it’s among the same variety of squash as zucchini and other summer time squash — Cucurbita pepo — the acorn squash is prized as a fall and winter ingredient. Technically classified as a fruit because of its seeds, the squash clocks in at about 2 pounds. It was a prized crop among Indigenous people for its hardiness and ability to be stored for long periods of time. 

Acorn squash can grow in nearly every U.S. state, but most commercial crops are grown in Michigan, New York, and California. Acorn squash is usually available in markets year-round, but peak season begins in early October and lasts through December. When shopping for squash, select one with a dull dark green skin and some orange patches. Avoid those with soft spots and choose one with the stem intact, which helps it retain moisture longer. The best ones feel heavier than they look.

Given its hard exterior, some newcomers to acorn squash are intimidated by the prospect of cooking it. Though it can be cooked whole in the oven, added flexibility and abbreviated prep times can be found using a microwave. Like a potato, the trick lies in puncturing it with a knife before pre-heating it in the microwave. After two minutes of cooking on high heat, the squash becomes tender enough to halve.

Baking the squash in the oven takes about 45 minutes to an hour in a 350 to 400 degree F oven. It’s ready when the skin indents with gentle pressure and the flesh is very tender. To brown the surface of a cut squash, which adds caramelization, roast it on high for the final 15 minutes of cooking.

Squash halves can be filled with a traditional bread stuffing or wild rice for a vegetarian main course. Perhaps a caramelized and herbaceous set of cubes or a puréed acorn squash soup would make a nice side dish. Add butter and brown sugar to the open face of the squash for a subtle yet sweet dessert. Additionally, the blossoms and seeds can be eaten. Some prefer to deep fry the blossoms and stem for a satisfyingly savory crunch. The seeds may be best enjoyed salted and browned in the oven.

Stored in a cool, dry location such as a root cellar, acorn squash can last a month or more. Once it’s cut open, it should be sealed with plastic wrap and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days. Refrigerate any cooked leftovers in an airtight container and use them within three days. To freeze acorn squash, cook it before removing the skin and then cubing or mashing it. Store it in an airtight container for up to three months.