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Eat this! Acorn squash, made for stuffing

Las Palmas’ la calabeza rellena.

Las Palmas’ la calabeza rellena.

What it is: A type of Cucurbita pepo, acorn squash is an edible gourd related to pumpkins and zucchini. A hard-shelled winter-storage squash, most traditionally it has a dark green exterior shaped something like an acorn, and a finely grained, sweet orange flesh, but you can also find acorns with golden, white and even striped skins. They make colorful decorations as well as delicious vegetables.

Where it comes from: Indigenous to North and Central America, winter squash seeds have been excavated from Mexican burial mounds dating to between 9,000 and 4,000 B.C. Squash was introduced to early European settlers by Native Americans. The name acorn squash, however, first appeared in print in 1937.

Armando Gonzalez

Armando Gonzalez

What to do with it: Acorn squash is most often roasted, steamed or microwaved. It can also be cut into pieces and sauteed, but because of the hard, inedible rind, it’s easiest to simply cut it in half and scoop out seeds before cooking — soften it by par-cooking and then cutting it into smaller pieces. Once cooked, the squash can be simply served in its rind, or the flesh can be scooped out, mashed and seasoned in a variety of ways.

The small size and naturally concave shape make acorn squash halves an ideal medium for individual servings with various fillings. At Las Palmas, a Mexican restaurant in Wicker Park, Chef Armando Gonzalez roasts acorn squash halves and stuffs them with a mixture of saffron rice and vegetables.

Choose squash with a hard, well-colored rind and without cuts or moldy spots. Store in a cool, dark, well ventilated area. If well-stored, the squash will keep for several months.

Las Palmas’ la calabeza rellena
Oven-roasted acorn squash stuffed with artichokes, green peas, chile de arbol, mushrooms and saffron rice
Chef Armando Gonzalez

3 acorn squash, washed, cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups risotto rice
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups white wine
1 tablespoon powdered saffron
5 cups vegetable stock, heated

4 artichoke hearts, trimmed
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound white mushrooms, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 chile de arbol, seeded and chopped
1 cup green peas

1/4 teaspoon powdered saffron
1 to 3 tablespoons butter
6 springs fresh thyme or rosemary

Cook the squash: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the squash halves, skin side down, in a glass baking dish. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and brown sugar, and put 1/2 tablespoon butter in each. Add 1/2 inch of water to pan carefully, and cover with foil. Bake, covered, for 45 minutes.

Prepare the risotto: In large saucepan over medium heat, heat the olive oil and saute the rice, garlic, and onion until the onions are golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the wine and saffron. Gradually stir in the stock and cook till absorbed, stirring frequently, so as not to stick.

Cook the vegetables: Boil the artichokes in water to cover with the lime juice for 5 minutes and submerge in ice water. Chop.

In a medium saute pan, heat the oil, and cook the mushrooms, peppers and peas until a little soft (3 to 5 minutes), then add the artichokes.

To assemble: Stir the vegetable mixture into the rice, add saffron, and thin the mixture with butter. Spoon the rice mixture into the acorn squash halves, and top each with a fresh sprig of thyme. 6 servings.

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