Holiday meals for vegetarians tend to be all about the side dishes. While I love sides, sometimes one wants something a little more substantial — something that serves as a centerpiece for the meal. A few years ago, I threw together a stuffed acorn squash with quinoa, mushrooms, and smoked mozzarella, which turned out to be just perfect for that purpose. I’ve made it several times for holiday meals, and it’s always a hit with the veggie crowd (that is, if there’s anyone other than me not partaking in the turkey or ham).
This year, we had Christmas dinner with my in-laws, and my future-sister-in-law (whom I love to pieces) who is also a vegetarian was in attendance, so I made a couple of stuffed squashes for us to enjoy. We weren’t jealous of the ham, but everyone else envied our “centerpieces”!
Maybe I'm projecting, but they are pretty!
This year I used smoked gouda instead of mozzarella, and added caramelized onions and toasted pine nuts courtesy of my husband-slash-sous chef. They were beautiful and delicious, and between these, the bounty of yummy sides we all stuffed ourselves with, and the bread pudding I made for dessert (more on that later), no one went away hungry. In fact, we were all still pretty stuffed by the time tamale night rolled around later that evening.
My sister-in-law made those beauties, including pork, chicken, and black bean versions. She made her own masa and everything — fabulous! Add a slice of pecan pie after a few of those bad boys, and I was stuffed and ready for early bed.
You don’t have to stuff yourself silly to enjoy the acorn squash, though. It’s definitely easy enough to be a meal for any day, and the stuffing can be switched up in any number of ways.
Stuffed Acorn Squash
2 medium acorn squashes
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed and cooked
one medium onion
1-2 cups shredded smoked gouda*
1 cup shiitake mushrooms**
dash of milk
handful of toasted pine nuts
Preheat the oven to 400°. Cut a thin slice off the bottom of each squash, so that it sits stable when you flip it over. Cut a wide opening around the stem and pull the “cap”off. Scoop out the seeds and strings. Place the squash cut (top) side down in a little water and bake for 30 minutes, or until tender.***
Meanwhile, halve the onion and thinly slice it. Heat a little olive oil over medium heat and sauté until translucent. Turn the heat down to medium low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and caramelized, about 30 minutes total. Chop the mushrooms and sauté them in a little olive oil over medium heat as well, just until they’re tender and giving off their juices.
In a saucepan, combine the cooked quinoa, onions, mushrooms, a tablespoon or two of milk, and about a cup of the cheese. Stir together over medium low heat until the cheese melts, and add salt and pepper to taste. Add more cheese to get the consistency of the stuffing to your liking. I tend to like a lot of cheese for that great smoky flavor that goes so well with the mushrooms. Stir in the pine nuts.
Preheat the broiler. Set the cooked squash right side up in a baking pan and stuff with the quinoa mixture. Top with a nice layer of shredded cheese and put under the broiler for a couple of minutes until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown.
* Or smoked mozzarella. Really any smoked cheese works great here.
** You can easily substitute cremini or other mushrooms here — whatever strikes your fancy.
*** This can be done up to a couple of hours ahead — just set the squash aside until you’re ready to stuff it, and a give it 5 minutes or so extra in the oven to warm up before you broil it.