stuffed-acorn-squash

I wasn’t going to do another squash recipe: there are, relatively speaking, too many on this site already – as compared to, say, kohlrabi or turnip recipes. But squash is a sexy, popular, versatile vegetable that lends itself well to different types of fillings. So it makes a great centrepiece for a special occasion dinner table.

Ras el hanout is a wonderfully fragrant, traditional Moroccan spice mix, made up from a very wide range of whole spices freshly crushed together. It might include cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, rose petals and so on – the recipe varies throughout Morocco; each spice stall and family has its own version. Getting good-quality ras el hanout is key to this recipe. In the UK, you can obtain it from large supermarkets, food halls, speciality spice shops, food markets, and Mediterranean delis. Experiment with different spice blends for this recipe. Ras el hanout has a punchy, distinctive flavour, so if you are using a particular blend or brand for the first time, use sparingly – and hand out harissa (Moroccan hot sauce) on the side for extra flavour, if at all needed. Serves 4.

For the squash:

2 medium acorn (or another variety) squash
Olive oil for greasing
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper

For the filling:

6 oz/ 150g white, brown and wild rice mix
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil (Moroccan, if you have it)
1 small leek, trimmed and finely sliced
1 small carrot, peeled and diced
1 very small green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
4 to 6 small button mushrooms, halved
1 oz/ 25g pine nuts, lightly toasted in a small pan
1 oz/ 25g ready-to-eat apricots, finely chopped
1 heaped tablespoon ras el hanout
¼ teaspoon saffron, crushed in a mortar and soaked in a tablespoon of water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
6 large green olives, stoned and chopped
4 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
Salt and pepper

1.    Pre-heat the oven to 200C/ 400F/ gas mark 6.
2.    Cut the squash in half vertically through their stems. Do not peel the squash or remove the stems. Scoop out the seeds and discard (or dry them in a very low oven for later use as a snack).
3.    Mix a little oil with garlic, paprika and seasoning, then paint the insides of the squash with this mixture using a pastry brush.
4.    Place the squash on a greased baking sheet, cut side down, and bake for 30 minutes until tender.
5.    Meanwhile cook the rice according to the packet instructions. Once cooked, let it cool thoroughly.
6.    Heat the oil in a pan, and cook the leek, carrot, pepper and mushrooms for 5-10 minutes until soft.
7.    Add the cooked, cooled rice and stir. (You may be wondering: what’s the point of cooling the rice first if it’s going to be added to a hot pan anyway. Well, the reason is that if you add the hot rice, the grains will break down and the filling will become mushy. If the rice is allowed to cool down first, the grains will remain intact and separate).
8.    Add the pine nuts, apricots, ras el hanout, saffron, lemon juice, olives, coriander and seasoning. Mix gently.
9.    Stuff the squash cavities with the rice mixture, pressing down the filling lightly but firmly.
10.  Serve immediately, or cover with foil and keep warm in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

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