In the spirit of simplicity, I present to you this elegant roasted acorn squash that goes from mundane to magnificent with just – wait for it – three main ingredients.
The finished dish will not only leave you looking for your socks (as it will knock them straight off), but it will make you wonder why you don’t take advantage of winter squash season more often.
That’s right. Though you can typically find a bin of butternuts or a plentiful selection of spaghetti squash at your local grocery store in the summer months, these sturdy starch-bombs are best and most bountiful when the air is cold.
Temperatures everywhere are on the rise overall, and the above statement seems to have lost some of its meaning recently. I live in a southeastern beach town, so I’m used to a December day or two where the flip flops come back out. Maybe you can relate.
But this year has been an entirely different story. Weeks upon weeks of nearly eighty-degree weather mean my mittens have stayed tucked away despite the turning of the seasons. I realize it’s rare to ever need gloves in North Carolina, but I’m longing for the coziness of my luxuriously furry boots and oversized hoodies.
The recent bizarrely warm weather takes me back to a time when I called the West Coast home. Living in Hollywood, California in my mid-twenties, I remember yearning for chilly afternoons in November.
It was to be my first Thanksgiving away from my family, and I would stroll past the open-air shops in The Grove, a popular and well-known outdoor mall, wondering why so many people were still sporting shorts.
I’m not much of a shopper, so like clockwork, I’d eventually end up at the OG Farmer’s Market at Third and Fairfax, with a plethora of peppers and lettuces available that I certainly didn’t need. What I did need was something that felt seasonal, other than the chestnut praline latte I was toting around.
An armful of heavy winter squash did the trick.
Once I arrived back at my humble one-bedroom apartment, I spread my treasures onto the counter. Delicata, butternut, acorn, and the like were all in the mix.
I poked around my miniature pantry for the few flavorful ingredients I knew would lead to a cozy result. After slicing each one in half and spooning out the seeds – reserving several for my new black and white kitty Olive (who is now nearly 12) to chase around – the maple syrup began to flow.
The aromas produced in my tiny kitchen that day, a space where the refrigerator door couldn’t even swing all the way open, were something out of a love story.
And thus, this recipe was born.
All winter squash is wonderful in its own right, but acorn – with its picture-perfect built-in bowl – gets my vote for this dish. Once the seeds are removed, a deep well appears, ready to imbibe whatever deliciousness you want to throw its way.
Rich, robust maple syrup seeps in and perfumes every ounce of the flesh with its distinct woodiness, while a hefty sprinkle of brown sugar melts away into the puddle of butter. Salt enhances and brings together all of the flavors.
The caramel pool harmoniously bubbles away in the oven, just begging to be basted all over the glowing vegetable halves when they come out. I’m still looking for my socks, marveling at the idea that just three simple ingredients that I already had on hand could turn this veggie into something distinctly reminiscent of candy.
No matter the temperature, and whichever coast I’m on, this decadent maple-roasted squash manifests all the winter magic I need.Print
This bold, buttery roasted acorn squash leans on aromatic ingredients like maple syrup and brown sugar for a boost of winter magic.
- 2 acorn squash (approximately 1 1/2 pounds each)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon plus 1 pinch coarse salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
- 2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a quarter-size rimmed baking sheet (9.5 x 13 inches) with parchment paper.
- Going through the stems, slice the acorn squash in half and then scoop out the seeds. Lay the halves, cut side up, on the prepared sheet pan.
- Brush the cut sides lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper. Evenly distribute the butter, maple syrup, and brown sugar between the hollowed-out centers of each half.
- Bake until the flesh is tender enough to be pierced easily with a sharp knife, about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the squash.
- Remove from the oven. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and then arrange on a platter. Serve warm.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour
- Category: Squash
- Method: Roasting
- Cuisine: Vegetables
Keywords: winter squash, acorn squash, maple syrup, brown sugar
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prep
Select acorn squash that are about the same size, for even cooking.
Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a quarter-size baking sheet (9.5 x 13 inches) with parchment paper.
Slicing vertically through the stems (not horizontally through the middle), slice them in half.
Use a spoon with sharp edges to scoop out the seeds, but don’t throw them away! This article will give you all the guidelines you need for turning them into a yummy toasted treat.
Lay the halves on the prepared sheet pan, cut side up. If any are rolling around, you can slice off a small piece of the skin where it touches the parchment paper so it lays flat.
Step 2 – Season
Brush the cut sides lightly with olive oil to help the seasonings cling to the flesh. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper.
Evenly distribute the butter, maple syrup, and brown sugar between the hollowed-out cavities of each half.
You can use light brown sugar if it’s what you have on hand, but the flavor won’t be as deeply caramel-like and the final color will be a little lighter.
Sprinkling the halved pieces lightly with cinnamon or other warming spices (or adding a few golden raisins to each well before baking) will enhance the flavor with warmth and sweetness.
Step 3 – Bake and Serve
Bake until the flesh is tender enough to easily be pierced with a sharp knife, for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size. The squash I used were approximately 1 1/2 pounds each, and they were perfectly cooked in 45 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and immediately sprinkle them with a pinch of salt. Arrange on a platter and serve warm.
For serving the halves whole, I like to baste them with the maple-butter in the middle before serving.
If you would prefer to slice the halves into pieces, transfer the maple-butter in the center cavity to a small bowl first so it doesn’t spill out. After the pieces are arranged on a platter, drizzle them with the liquid. Garnish with fresh herbs like chopped rosemary, thyme, and sage if you like, to give the dish a bright pop of color.
Stuff Your Squash
Though this melt-in-your-mouth recipe screams side dish, I’m a fan of taking it straight to center stage. I stuff it with sauteed greens and puffy grains for a substantial sweet-and-savory dinner that’s simply addictive.
Go ahead. You can ask about those peels…
The answer is: Yes, you can eat the skin of acorn squash!
Once roasted, the thick skin softens just enough to enjoy, but if you’re not a fan of the texture, you can totally peel it away, or simply scoop out the insides and toss the edible bowl when you’re done.
To enhance the butter with some herby flavors, sprinkle in some fresh chopped sage for added savory notes, or rosemary to give it a hint of pine. You can also scatter the herbs over the top whole, and remove them just before serving.
A touch of citrus can also brighten up the butter’s deep, nutty flavor. I like to reach for orange zest at a time like this.
How will you spruce up this squash and make it your own? Share your tasty tips in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Is your rumbling stomach in dire need of more winter squash ideas? These recipes will steer you right:
- Dijon Mustard and Sage Roasted Squash
- Roasted Butternut Squash and Black Rice with Hemp-Miso dressing
- Veggie Patties
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on November 9, 2009. Last updated on January 15, 2022.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”