Most kids hate their veggies. I wasn’t like most kids.
From a young age, while everyone else in my generation was turning their noses up at vegetables of any kind, I was welcoming roasted carrots, fresh green beans and creamed spinach with open arms. As I sit here, I’m racking my brain, trying to think of a veggie I didn’t like as a kid, and, I’m at a total loss – I honestly think I relished them all.
Although, I don’t want you to think I was born with this innate adoration of them, since I’m pretty sure it was mostly due to my Mom’s love of veggies and salads herself. Growing up it was unusual for a vegetable and salad to be absent from our nightly dinner table and I think because I was never really forced to eat any of it (that I can remember), I didn’t assume there was any sort of negative connotation associated with them – so I ate them, and consequently fell in love.
I can remember all sorts of varieties of vegetables, but one that I don’t remember, and have only started cooking with in recent years is acorn squash. I’m sure it graced our dinner table at some point during the 19 years (plus a couple extra years here and there) I lived there, but it’s not something I remember being a constant. It could be because the squash game seems to have really been amplified in the last couple years or so, maybe it just wasn’t around as much? Even these days, it seems as if every time I go to the grocery store there’s some new funky variety I’ve never heard of, and even though I want to try them all, I always find myself going back to the fall classics – butternut and acorn.
I love them both for different reasons, butternut for its sweet, potato-like consistency, and acorn, for it’s more mild, savory flavor and edible skin. To me, aesthetically speaking, butternut squash has more of a low-key rustic vibe, while acorn squash has a cooler, more sophisticated vibe, and is just so darn pretty to look at – perfect for the Thanksgiving table.
Even when it’s just simply roasted with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, it still promises to be one of the prettiest side items on a table full of food. Here, I took the pretty factor up a couple notches with the addition of some serious accouterments. Some of those being sort of high maintenance, but worth the extra effort for an occasion as special as Thanksgiving.
Olive oil is usually the fat of choice when roasting veggies, but for optimal fall flavor, I instead browned up a couple tablespoons of butter to toss the cut squash in prior to popping them into the oven, because, why not??
While the squash did its thing, I saved the seeds from waste and tossed them with a little bit of olive oil, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt and then toasted them up alongside the squash. Because they cook up faster than the squash does, be prepared to show some self-restraint when they come out of the oven. I found myself picking at them constantly, almost eating them into extinction before the squash was ready, which kind of made me wish I bought two instead, solely for the purpose of snacking on more seeds.
Also quickly thrown together during the cooking process of both the squash and the seeds is a super easy pomegranate vinaigrette to drizzle over the hot squash. Pomegranate juice, a little bit of Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar and salt make up the simple ingredients list. Again, another step, but an easy, totally worth it step.
Once the squash finally emerges from the oven, it’s transferred to a serving platter, sprinkled with the seeds, some toasted hazelnuts and pomegranate arils and then drizzled with the vinaigrette.
While this is meant to be a side, I actually had half the batch for lunch and was completely satisfied until dinner. Either way, side or entree, this needs to make an appearance somewhere in your holiday menu planning! Can you even imagine the praise you’ll get when setting this beauty out??
- 1 acorn squash
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1¼ teaspoon olive oil, divided
- ½ teaspoon packed brown sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ cup hazelnuts, chopped
- ¼ cup pomegranate arils
- 2 teaspoons pomegranate juice
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon dijon mustard
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Slice squash in half through the top of the squash. Cut squash into ½ inch slices. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Rinse seeds off and pat dry.
- Add butter to a small skillet. Turn the heat on a medium-high and cook butter until it begins to brown. Once the butter begins to brown, swirl pan until it turns a deep brown and smells very nutty. Toss butter with cut squash in a bowl. Transfer squash to a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with plenty of salt and pepper. Roast until soft, about 25 minutes, turning halfway through.
- In the same bowl you tossed the squash in, add pumpkin seeds, ¼ teaspoon olive oil, brown sugar and cinnamon. Toss together. Season with salt and pepper. Spread on to a small baking sheet and pop into the oven with the squash, bake until golden brown, about 7-8 minutes. Set aside.
- While the squash and seeds roast, toast the hazelnuts and make the dressing. In the same skillet you cooked the butter, add chopped hazelnuts. Turn the heat on medium and toast until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Be careful not to burn.
- In a small bowl, add pomegranate juice, vinegar and mustard. Whisk until combined. Slowly whisk in remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
- When squash comes out of the oven, transfer to serving platter. Sprinkle with hazelnuts, roasted seeds and pomegranate arils. Drizzle with vinaigrette.