Squash falls into two categories: Summer or immature and winter or fully mature. Maturation periods vary from a week for a zucchini to two months or more for a winter squash. The summer squash is watery and more cooling whereas the winter squash has a warming post digestive thermal nature with a sweet flavor that influences the spleen and stomach, reduces inflammation and improves Qi energy circulation. Compared with summer squash, winter squash contains greater amounts of natural sugars, carbohydrates, vitamin A and beta-carotene and is medicinal for those with digestive issues. The watery summer squash and zucchini have a yin and cooling property that helps to overcome summer heat, too much summer squash especially zucchini can diminish the middle burner warmth necessary for good digestion. In Chinese medicine theory it is important to strengthen the spleen and harmonize the stomach, if the spleen and stomach are deficient, they will be unable to perform their digestive functions.
Acorn squash is a common fall variety that I enjoy cooking. An acorn’s skin is typically dark green and the flesh is typically pale yellow. Most acorn squash skin is thin enough to be edible when cooked and leaving the dark skin on makes it more visually appealing. You’ll get the most flavor from a squash harvested after the first frost and the sweetest squash generally are those with the most deeply colored flesh. If you happen to have a squash that is a little bland, a vinegar, honey and chile glaze called agrodolce is a great way to add some heat and some sweet!
Sweet and sour is a classic combination of flavors that can be found in almost every cuisine around the world and in Italy it’s called agrodolce and produces delicious balanced dishes of savory and sweet. Agrodolce is made by reducing sour and sweet elements, traditionally vinegar and sugar. Here we are using red wine vinegar and honey with golden raisins and red chile. Honey acts on the stomach and spleen and when compared to regular sugar is slightly sweeter and has a more complex flavor. Add as much red chile as you like but be sure to add it at the end of the sauce making process as you don’t want the entire sauce to be spicy throughout, you want to get a little surprise of spice every now and then without overpowering the tangy sweet balance.
Acorn Squash Agrodolce
Prep/cook time about 60 minutes
Serves about 6
- 1-2 Acorn squash depending on size
- 5-7 Ounces red wine vinegar
- 2-3 Ounces honey depending on how sweet you like it
- 1-2 Ounces EVOO
- Sea salt
- Fresh cracked pepper
- ¼ Cup golden raisins
- Red chile or crushed red pepper flake
Cut the acorn squash in half, scoop out the seeds and discard. Slice the squash into 1 inch slices, (the squash naturally provides cutting lines for you!) toss with olive oil and and season with salt and pepper, place on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees until tender and golden brown or about 40 minutes. Leave the peel if soft enough otherwise removed the peeling and dice the squash.
Make your agrodolce in a small saucepan by combining the red wine vinegar, honey and golden raisins. Bring to a simmer and on low heat and reduce until slightly syrupy. Stir in the red chile.
Using a large bowl, toss the roasted squash with half the agrodolce sauce. Add a little olive oil or water to thin the sauce if it reduced too much. After you have plated the squash, spoon over the remaining agrodolce. Feel free to garnish with chives, sage or other other herbs that you like.
This is servable right away while still warm but is equally as delicious served at room temperature.