Autumn has finally fallen upon us (see what I did there?) and with it, harvest season and droves of fantastic fruit and vegetables that are in their prime right now. One of the most famous examples this time of year is squash. I love squash and pumpkins. There is so much more that you can do with them than just pies and carving for Halloween. One of my favourite varieties is acorn squash (sometimes called, pepper squash). This is a recipe that started out as a passing idea, but when I finally tried it I was blown away. This dish is so good! I'm not sure what to call it other than Acorn Squash Florentine, but it's essentially roasted acorn squash stuffed with creamed spinach and an egg and then baked until the white is set but the yolk is still rich and runny. This is a fantastic side dish or vegetarian main and it works well for any meal of the day. Eggs and spinach are staples in my diet and I find that they so often go great together. This recipe is a perfect demonstration of that.
Acorn squash can be identified by their bell-shape with longitudinal ridges. They range in shades of dark green and can have splotches of orange and yellow as well. They should feel a little heavy for their size. They're quite dense and need about an hour of roasting at a high heat. If you'd like to try this recipe for breakfast, you can roast the squash the night before to save time. Then all you need to do is make the creamed spinach and egg part in the morning. Please be careful when cutting them because as I mentioned, they're quite hard. A good, sharp knife is key. I recommend drizzling a bit of oil on the blade of the knife. This will help to control friction. Halve each squash (to make two portions) by rocking the knife back and forth until you cut through it. It has a cavity in the middle that is full of membrane and seeds so expect less resistance in the center. Most acorn squashes also have part of the steam where it was detached. The stems are very woody and not edible. You can also damage your knife if you try to cut the stem. Just cut through the squash with the steam attached and pull the halves apart with your hands. The stem will break naturally and spare your knife.
Admittedly, I didn't nail this idea on the first try. I had to do it a couple of times before coming up with the proper instructions here. This is a fairly easy recipe but the key is to really drain your spinach. Spinach is full of so much water and it will really thin out your béchamel sauce if you don't drain it properly. I'm calling for a "bunch" of spinach in this recipe. This means the bunches you find at the market that are generally tied together by a thin wire tie. If you're not familiar, then the amount of roughly chopped raw spinach should fill a 4-cup measuring vessel. After wilted and drained it should be just under a cup.
Let's get started! You're going to love this. This recipe is for one acorn squash (which makes two portions) so adjust accordingly to your liking.
1 acorn squash, halved, seeds removed
1 bunch of spinach, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup milk, cold
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
A few tbsp olive oil
Pinch of paprika
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat your oven to 400 Fahrenheit/205 Celsius.
Start by cutting the acorn squash into two equal halves, following the instructions in the second paragraph above. Scoop out the membrane and the seeds, leaving a clean, empty cavity in each half (you may discard the seeds or roast them just like pumpkin seeds). Then slice off just a tiny bit of the of the middle of the outside skin with one, even cut. The sole purpose of this step is so that the squash lays flat and doesn't rock around when you're trying to work with it.
Place your squash halves on a lightly oiled baking tray, cavities facing up. Drizzle with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper and a pinch of paprika. Loosely cover with tin foil and place in the middle of your preheated oven for about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the tin foil and place back in the oven for an additional 18 minutes.
While the squash is cooking, sautée the spinach in a dry pan with a pinch of salt. Stir it around for 2-3 minutes until the leaves darken and wilt. If you're not used to cooking spinach, expect the volume to decrease a lot (down to about a fifth). Spoon the spinach into some paper towel and squeeze out as much water as you can. Set Aside.
Sautée the garlic in a saucepan with a tbsp or so of olive oil for about a minute over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp of butter and keep sautéing until the butter melts. Add 1 tbsp of flour to the mixture and whisk for no more than a minute. Don't let the garlic burn. You want the flour to soak up the fat and to cook out the raw, floury flavour. Then slowly add 1 cup of cold milk in 4 equal increments, while whisking. You're basically making a béchamel at this point. Turn up the heat to medium-high and season the sauce with salt, pepper and nutmeg. As soon as the sauce comes to a boil, turn the heat down to low. It will thicken and thicken into a creamy, saucy consistency. Taste for seasoning. Remove from the heat and stir in the wilted, drained spinach. NOTE: You are looking for roughly equal amounts of sauce to spinach. Once incorporated, it should look something like this:
Remove the squash from the oven. Some water may have accumulated in the cavity during roasting. If so, turn them over to drain the excess water out. Spoon in half of your creamed spinach mixture into the cavity. Make a little well in the center of the spinach. Crack an egg into a ramekin or something similar. Ensure that you do not pierce the yolk. Then transfer the egg into the well in the spinach. Place the stuffed squash back in the oven for about 12 additional minutes until the whites cook through and firm up. If you don’t like runny yolks, you can cook them for an additional 4 minutes.
Remove them from the oven. Season the egg with salt and pepper to your taste. You may enjoy some additional paprika on top. I added a little bit of fresh chopped parsley to mine, but that's optional. Serve warm!
I can't even begin to tell you how awesome these turned out. The acorn squash gets sweet and nutty when it roasts. The spinach is creamy and garlicky coupled with the richness of the egg. The yolk adds an extra sauce that's just so good. I liked to mix everything together with a fork and eat it right out of the skin. Could you eat the skin? Technically, yes. It's high in fiber and it is digestible but that's up to your preference. Personally, sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.
The flavours work so well with this. You get a nice variety of colour and textures too. If you want to add meat to this you could crumble some bacon on top. You can use any kind of spices you want with this. I find that with so many acorn squash recipes you too often get the same ol' butter, brown sugar and sometimes maple syrup routine. Don't get me wrong, that's classic and tastes great. But I love how different this recipe is. It's a creative and savoury way to enjoy squash. There's nothing not to love.
I hope you give this a try. I have another awesome squash recipe coming up soon that you won't want to miss, so stay tuned!