The familiar green winter squash with orange flesh called acorn squash gets its name from its deep green ridges, as well as its wide top that gradually tapers to a narrow bottom. Combining the squash with butter and syrup highlights its sweet taste. The naturally small squash variety is diminutive enough to be cooked whole, then peeled, and mashed or cubed.
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Some winter squash types are too large to cook efficiently without being halved or quartered. Acorn and spaghetti squash types, however, tend to stay within the comfort zone for whole cooking. One advantage to this method is that you don't have to peel or chop the tough raw vegetable. When you want to cook it whole, look for squashes that are no larger than 6 inches in diameter. Larger ones should be sliced into pieces or halved.
Baking or Zapping
Baking or microwaving whole acorn squash will give you the most reliable results. No matter which method you use to cook the squash, always start by poking holes all over the squash to prevent a buildup of pressure -- or the vegetable may explode. Bake the squash in a 325-degree-Fahrenheit oven for 90 to 120 minutes, or until the shell is less rigid. Alternatively, microwave the whole squash on high for at least 10 minutes. If the shell doesn't give when prodded or the skin can't be pierced easily, microwave it in five-minute increments until tender.
Keeping the acorn squash whole for the first part of the cooking process softens up the rind and flesh so that it slices more easily into halves. Fill the halves with stuffing or a combination of butter and syrup, then resume cooking them. When zapping the acorn squash, partially microwave the pierced, whole vegetables for five minutes, then microwave the filled halves for another two to five minutes. For baking, remove the whole squash from the oven after about 15 minutes, halve it, then return the halves to the oven for another 15 to 30 minutes.
Smaller winter squash varieties such as acorn squash may be boiled without being cut into pieces, just as they can be be baked or microwaved. Be prepared, however, for the fact that boiled squash is often more watery and bland than those cooked with other methods. You may need to drain the peeled, cubed pieces before mashing or serving, and to add extra flavorings. Before boiling, pierce the skin in several place to prevent pressure buildup before setting the squash into the boiling water. Cook in a covered pot at a medium boil for about one hour.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- Cooking Light: Guide to Winter Squash
- RecipeTips: All About Winter Squash
- Sunset: Winter squash -- 6 delicious recipes
- University of Illinois Extension: Winter Squash
- Betty Crocker: How to Cook Winter Squash
- Williams-Sonoma: Ingredient Spotlight -- Winter Squash
- Harvest to Table: Kitchen Basics -- Winter Squash