Acorn Squash with Sun-Dried Tomato Polenta
This dish transcends the simplicity of squash and the hominess of coarse-ground cornmeal. The lushness of the flavors soothe and satisfy the palate, creating culinary magic on a brisk winter evening. The whole dish, virtually a meal on its own, can be made in about an hour and is best served hot—when the polenta is still steaming, the Parmesan is melting and the colors are vibrant. If you wish to accompany the squash with other courses, consider an appetizer or soup with mild flavors, like a simple vegetable broth filled with lightly cooked greens or rounds of toasted wheat bread spread with a mild hummus dip. To complement the assertive squash flavors, offer sliced fresh fruit.
- Preheat oven to 350F. Line sheet pan with parchment paper, and spray liberally with nonstick vegetable oil.
- Cut squashes in half crosswise, and scoop out seeds and a little extra flesh. Cook, face down on parchment paper, about 45 minutes, or until sharp knife easily penetrates outside skin and rim of flesh is lightly browned.
- Meanwhile, in small bowl, soak tomatoes in very hot water to cover for 15 to 20 minutes. When soft, coarsely chop and set aside. On small sheet pan or in baking dish, toast pine nuts in oven for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove and set aside.
- To make pesto, in food processor, add pine nuts, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and grated Parmesan cheese. Start machine and, as blade is turning, pour olive oil through shoot. Blend into smooth paste. Set aside in small bowl. (Use same bowl, rinsed and dried, used for soaking tomatoes).
- Bring stock to a boil in medium to heavy saucepan. Add salt, keeping water boiling at medium-high heat. Add polenta gradually, either slowly from measuring cup or letting a fistful run through nearly closed fingers, constantly stirring with long-handled whisk. When all polenta is added, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook gently. Continue stirring, switching to long-handled wooden spoon. To avoid burning or sticking, use heat-diffusing device. Stir continuously and thoroughly, bringing mixture up from bottom and loosening from sides. (Make sure sides are scooped clean.)
- Continue to stir for about 20 minutes, or until polenta is creamy and pulls away from sides of pan. Turn off heat, and stir in sun-dried tomato pesto.
- Remove squash from oven. Spoon tomato mixture into squash “bowls.” Top with shredded Parmesan, dust with paprika and garnish with parsley.
Note: For a faster dish, substitute store-bought sun-dried tomato pesto, which won’t be as fresh or as satisfying. However, making your own is easy. You can prepare the whole dish ahead, minus garnishes. Refrigerate, reheat until hot and garnish with shredded cheese, paprika and parsley. If squashes are particularly misshapen, trim ridged edges so they will stand up straight without rolling over.