Beef stew served in baked winter squash is a cook's dream, simple and savory and adaptable for a variety of occasions. For diners, it's a colorful visual treat, too, before the first mouthful is even tasted.
The ingredients are seasonal, their combinations can be varied through fall and winter months. Adjust types and quantities of vegetables to suit market availability or personal preferences.
Acorn squash, shaped like an acorn with a dark green ribbed skin and orange flesh, works well for this recipe. In general, smaller squash make great individual soup bowls, while larger squash make perfect tureens.
Whether baked whole, steamed, pureed or stuffed, winter squash, whose peak season is from early fall through winter, provide plenty of options and flavors to work with. Squash of any kind are suitable for high-fiber, low-calorie and low-fat diets; they offer a nutritious variety of vitamins and minerals.
Choose a squash that is heavy for its size and has a hard, deep-colored rind and smooth skin. Stay away from those with blemishes and moldy spots. The hard skin protects and helps preserve the creamy flesh.
Don't discard the seeds. They can be roasted and salted to make a savory snack. Cooked squash can be stored in the freezer for up to one year.
Beef Stew in Winter Squash
5 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 pounds beef for stew, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 medium or 1 large yellow onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 large green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup red wine
1 bay leaf
Sprig thyme, marjoram or rosemary
3 cups beef broth
4 medium acorn squash
8 to 10 baby new potatoes, cooked
1/2 cup pearl onions
1/2 cup sugar snap peas
Place 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a large stainless-steel bowl. Add stewing beef and toss to coat the exterior of the meat.
Meanwhile, coat the bottom of a large heavy pot with olive oil (about 1 tablespoon) and place over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add beef to the pot and allow it to brown on all sides, adding more oil as needed. Once all the beef is browned, reserve it and its juices in a bowl.
Add diced onion, celery, carrot, green pepper and garlic to the pot; cook, stirring, on high heat for 1 minute, scraping the bottom of the pot to free flavorful bits. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook vegetables for 1 minute. Increase heat to high and add red wine, allowing it to reduce to a glaze in the bottom of the pot.
Return beef to pot along with the bay leaf and your choice of herbs (thyme, marjoram or rosemary). Add the beef broth and bring to a brief boil. Immediately reduce heat to low and maintain a low simmer until beef is tender, about 1 hour.
While stew is slowly cooking, prepare squash by cutting a shallow slice off the top of each to make a lid; remove the seeds and strings. Lightly rub the inside of each squash with salt, pepper and olive oil. Replace lids and place on a lined baking tray. Bake at 350 F until tender when pricked with a knife, about 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven; set aside.
Before serving stew, add baby new potatoes, pearl onions and sugar snap peas; gently reheat, if necessary. Adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Carefully ladle stew into each squash and serve.
Makes 4 to 6 large servings.
(Source: Recipe from Cutco Cutlery Corp.)
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