- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

Although I love summer’s glorious produce, I can be equally rhapsodic about the fruits

and vegetables that arrive in our markets during the cold-weather months.

Once the temperature starts to drop, I put away recipes for eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes and focus instead on such delectable winter squashes as parsnips, rutabagas and other root vegetables.

Carrots, shallots and baby redskins, drizzled with olive oil and roasted until golden brown, are always a winning trio, and a rich, satisfying soup made with diced sweet potatoes and chopped leeks simmered in chicken stock, then pureed and enriched with cream, proves irresistible on a chilly night.

A couple from California, who attended my cooking classes, shared a delicious recipe for cranberry-filled acorn squashes that they like to prepare when entertaining at this time of year.

They halve the handsome, dark-green squashes, scoop out the seeds and then bake the halves until the flesh is fork-tender. While the squash is in the oven, they prepare a simple cranberry sauce, which is ladled into the cavities at serving time.

When I prepared it, I was struck by the exquisite color combination of the glistening crimson berries and the pale golden hue of the cooked squash. After my first bite, I realized that this creation tasted as good as it looked. The tart accent of the lightly sweetened berries paired beautifully with the squash’s natural sweetness.

These acorn squash halves mounded with cooked cranberries would make a festive accompaniment for a roast loin of pork or a baked ham. You could also serve the cranberries as a garnish to roast turkey, chicken or duck. In addition, this original recipe will certainly rescue your vegetarian guests from side-dish boredom.

Cranberry-orange-filled acorn squash halves

2 cups fresh cranberries, divided

6 tablespoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon grated orange zest

3 acorn squashes, about 1 pounds each

Kosher salt

cup chopped pecans, toasted (see note)

Several thin julienned orange peels for garnish, optional

Place half the cranberries, the sugar and ⅔ cup water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and berries pop, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add remaining cranberries, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until mixture thickens and becomes translucent. Stir in orange zest. Remove from heat. (Cranberry mixture can be prepared 2 days ahead. Bring to room temperature before using.)

To prepare acorn squash, cut thin slices from both ends of squash and discard slices. Halve squash (through middle, not the stem ends), and scrape out and discard seeds and strings. Place halves, cut sides down, in a very large roasting pan (or use 2 large roasting pans), and fill pan(s) with inch of water.

Bake on center rack of 325-degree oven until flesh is very tender when pierced a sharp knife, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove pan from oven and set aside. Squash can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Cool and leave at room temperature.

When ready to serve, divide cranberry mixture evenly and mound into squash halves. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet, and bake on center rack of 350-degree oven until hot, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Garnish each serving with a sprinkling of pecans and, if desired, with 1 or 2 orange strips. Makes 6 servings.

Note: To toast pecans, spread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in 350-degree oven until lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove and cool.

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