Key Ingredient


Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Ingredient of the week

Hard shell of acorn squash
sheathes sweet flavor

Nothing signifies the arrival of fall like winter squashes. These age-old, hard-shelled gourds have been enjoyed for centuries and are as diverse in flavor as they are visually eclectic.

One squash variety readily available here is the acorn squash. It has a mild sweet flavor with a slightly moist texture and is excellent for baking or steaming.

The basics: Acorn squash is so named because of its acorn shape, although it has also been referred to as Danish squash. The squash has deep ridges, a dark, forest-green color and a tinge of orange. The flesh is yellow-orange with a moderately sweet taste.

Acorn squash is popular because of its size, averaging 1 to 3 pounds. Its rind, however, is extremely hard and sometimes difficult to cut into.

Like many of the hard squashes, acorn squash is a good source of vitamin C and fiber. Vitamin A and beta carotene are also contained, though the amount is not as high as other squashes, such as butternut.

Selecting: Look for a squash that is heavy for its size with a hard outer shell. Some say the more orange color present on the rind, the sweeter the squash. Avoid squash with soft spots or bruises.

Storing: Whole squash should be stored unwrapped in a cool, dark and dry area. It should last for weeks. Cut squash should be wrapped in plastic and placed in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Use: Scrub the outer shell well before using. Because the rind is rather hard, be careful when cutting into the squash. Place the squash on a towel and use a mallet if necessary. If baking or steaming, cut in half lengthwise and remove seeds. To bake or microwave it whole, remember to pierce the skin in several places so it won't explode.

Acorn squash can be filled with ingredients such as pears, apples, raisins, cranberries, mushrooms or wild rice.

Try filling squash halves with a mixture of butter, brown sugar, ground cinnamon and a bit of lemon juice.

Bake at about 350 degrees for 40 minutes, or until squash is soft when pierced with a knife. Good stuff!

Where to buy: Acorn squash is generally available year-round, but is in peak season from October through December. Prices are running about $1.69 to $1.89 a pound.

Food Stuffs: Morsels

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