Acorn squash is a variety of the same squash species as zucchini and other summer squashes, Cucurbita pepo, but with its hard-to-cut skin and drier flesh, it's treated as a winter squash culinarily. Native Americans prized acorn squash because they could store it for long periods of time and cook it whole in the coals of a fire. In modern American kitchens, acorn squash may be baked, broiled, roasted, steamed, stuffed, sautéed, pureed, or even used as the surprise ingredient in a pie. Acorn squash can grow in nearly every U.S. state, but most of the commercial crop comes from Michigan, New York, and California.
What Is Acorn Squash?
Botanically a fruit, acorn squash has a mild, buttery flavor that pairs well with a wide variety of seasonings, both savory and sweet. At about 2 pounds, one squash makes a meal for two when stuffed with filling ingredients and baked and served right in its own shell. They are easy to prepare, though you need to remove the stringy center and seeds before you cook it. Acorn squash costs about the same per pound as many other common squash varieties such as butternut.
How to Cook With Acorn Squash
Use a sturdy knife to cut a squash in half, stem end to the point rather than across the diameter. To make it easier, pierce the skin with a fork or the tip of a knife in a few spots, put it in the microwave and cook it on high for 2 minutes. Let it stand for a few minutes before you carve it.
To prevent the halves from rocking on a baking tray, cut a small slice off the bottom to create a flat surface for them to rest on. Remove the fibers and seeds from the center of the squash before steaming, broiling, or baking the halves.
To bake acorn squash, place the squash halves on a baking sheet. You can also bake acorn squash whole; be sure to pierce the skin with the tip of a sharp knife in multiple places first. The timing depends on the size, but generally, you can plan on an hour to an hour and a half, in a 350-400 F oven. The skin should yield to gentle pressure, and the flesh should be very tender. To brown the surface of a cut squash, roast it on high for the final 15 minutes of cooking.
To quickly microwave acorn squash, cut a whole squash in half, put it on a microwave-safe plate, and cook it for 13 minutes on high. Do not add water. Avoid boiling acorn squash because it damages both the flavor and the texture.
You can also eat acorn squash blossoms and toast the seeds for snacking just as you would pumpkin seeds.
What Does It Taste Like?
The mild, buttery taste of acorn squash pairs well with more assertive flavors, including spicy and aromatic ingredients. Ginger and cinnamon especially complement the flavor.
Acorn Squash Recipes
The ribbed surface of the acorn squash makes peeling it virtually impossible; no matter, though, as the edible skin turns tender when it cooks. Acorn squash is wonderful for stuffing with a wide variety of fillings and can be cooked and served right in its shell.
Where to Buy
Most large supermarkets and chain grocery stores carry fresh acorn squash year-round. It's sold loose by the individual squash, often in large bins with other winter squash varieties. But it's best in season, from fall into early winter. Look for fresh local squash at farmers' markets and natural food stores.
Select acorn squash with dull dark green skin and some orange patches but with no soft spots. It should feel heavier than it looks. Make sure it has an intact stem, which helps retain moisture in the squash.
You can grow acorn squash in a warm climate where temperatures remain 70-90 F for the growing season. The large plants do require quite a bit of room, though.
Stored in a cool, dry location such as a root cellar, acorn squash lasts for a month or longer. Once you cut it open, you can seal the surface tightly with plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for about four days. Refrigerate any cooked leftovers in an airtight container and use them within three days.
If you want to freeze acorn squash, cook it first and then remove the skin and cube it or mash it. Store it in an airtight container for up to three months.
Nutrition and Benefits
A 1-cup serving of baked, cubed acorn squash, without added fat or seasonings, contains 115 calories, 9 grams of dietary fiber, and no measurable fat. It delivers a healthy dose of vitamins A, C, and B6, along with thiamin, niacin, and folate. It contains nearly all of the minerals, with significant amounts of iron, magnesium, potassium, and manganese.