Acorn squash was meant to be stuffed, and in this case we're filling it with a delicious preparation.
- 1 cup brown basmati rice
- 1 3/4 cups water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 acorn squash (about 2 pounds apiece), medium, halved, seeded
- 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
- 1/2 onion, medium, minced
- 2/3 cup California walnuts, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic (about half a small clove), minced
- 1 apple, medium, chopped
- 1/4 cup cherries, dried (halved or quartered, if overly large)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
- Combine the rice and water in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Then turn down the heat to the lowest possible setting, cover the pot, and let the rice simmer undisturbed for 40 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking tray with foil, and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Use a pastry brush or a rubber spatula to distribute the oil so that it coats the area where you'll put the squash. Place the squash cut side-down on the olive oil coating. Put the tray in the center of the oven, and roast the squash for 35 to 40 minutes, or until it is tender enough on the bottom to easily insert a fork or a sharp knife. Remove the tray from the oven, and let it sit while you prepare the filling. Turn the oven down to 300°F.
- While the squash is roasting and the rice is cooking, place a small skillet over medium heat and wait about a minute. Add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon (that's 1 1/2 teaspoons) olive oil, and swirl to coat the pan. Toss in the butter and swirl until it melts into the oil. Add the onion, and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes, or until the onion becomes very soft and is beginning to turn golden. (If it appears to be browning too quickly, turn the heat to medium-low.) Add half the walnuts, and cook them with the onions, stirring frequently for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the nuts begin to toast and give off a lovely aroma. Stir in the garlic and salt, and cook for 5 minutes longer. Remove the pan from the heat. (Meanwhile, lightly toast the remaining walnuts and set aside.)
- After 40 minutes of undisturbed cooking, you may now disturb the rice by fluffing it with a fork. Give it a taste. If it is a little too crunchy, add another 3 tablespoons water, and without fluffing or stirring it further, put the top back on, and let it sit for another 10 minutes with the heat turned off. It will steam itself a little further and become more tender.
- When the rice is done to your liking, transfer it to a medium-large bowl. Add the onion-walnut mixture (using a rubber spatula to scrape in all the delicious essence that might otherwise be left in the pan) and toss with a serving fork until well combined. Add the apple and cherries, and mix until thoroughly combined.
- Turn the squash over, so their cavities are facing up. Divide the rice mixture among the squash, using a soup spoon to fill the cavities, packing down the filling, and then mounding the top.
- Cover the filled squash loosely with a tent of foil, and return the tray to the oven for only about 10 minutes – just long enough to heat everything through. (You can also skip this step, and just serve it warm, as is. It's good either way.) Serve topped with the remaining toasted walnuts.
Please note: You can include the squash in the stuffing as well. Simply roast it as directed, peel it and cut it in chunks. Add the squash chunks to the rice mixture. If you can't find dried cherries, it's okay to substitute dried cranberries.