Stuffed squash: Love at first bite

Southwestern Stuffed Acorn SquashSouthwestern Stuffed Acorn SquashHave you ever had a squash awakening? I did, when I took my first bite of Southwestern Stuffed Acorn Squash (recipe below). I previously hated squash for its lack of crunch and saltiness (two of my favorite food attributes). But in this recipe I loved the creamy texture paired with crisp-tender onions and bell pepper. And my savory-leaning taste buds were delighted with the balance of sweetness, Mexican seasonings, salty Italian sausage and melted cheese.

Plus squash, which is fresh and in season right now, is good for you: one cup of cooked winter squash has just around 80 calories and is high in both vitamin A and vitamin C, as well as being a good source of vitamins B6 and K, potassium and folate.

If you're ready to experiment with more delicious ways to enjoy squash, try these healthy fall recipes:

Spaghetti Squash & Pork Stir-Fry: You might remember spaghetti squash from your mom's low-cal dieting days. It's time to bring it into your kitchen: the delightful yellow strings are delicious in this stir-fry.

Winter Squash Risotto: A friend of mine made this squash-and mushroom-studded risotto for a fall gathering and the whole party loved it.

Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake: This comment from one of our readers says it all: "I have been making this cheesecake since it was published in 1996. It has become a Thanksgiving staple in my house and always gets rave reviews. People have even commented that they don't miss the pumpkin pie when I make this." With a compiment like that, why wait for Thanksgiving?

In Southwestern Stuffed Acorn Squash, sweet and creamy acorn squash balances the slightly spicy sausage filling.

3 acorn squash (3/4-1 pound each)
5 ounces bulk turkey sausage
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups chopped cherry tomatoes
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
Several dashes hot red pepper sauce, to taste
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. Cut squash in half horizontally. Scoop out and discard seeds. Place the squash cut-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, lightly coat a large skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Add turkey sausage and cook, stirring and breaking up with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add onion and bell pepper; cook, stirring often, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, chili powder and cumin; cook for 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, beans, salt and hot sauce, scraping up any browned bits. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until the tomatoes are broken down, 10 to 12 minutes.
4. When the squash are tender, reduce oven temperature to 325°. Fill the squash halves with the turkey mixture. Top with cheese. Place on the baking sheet and bake until the filling is heated through and the cheese is melted, 8 to 10 minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 259 calories; 7 g fat (4 g sat, 1 g mono); 29 mg cholesterol; 38 g carbohydrate; 15 g protein; 7 g fiber; 482 mg sodium; 884 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin C (80% daily value), Vitamin A (45% dv), Calcium (20% dv), Iron (15% dv).

By Carolyn Malcoun

When associate editor Carolyn Malcoun came to Vermont to attend New England Culinary Institute, she knew she didn't want to work in a restaurant but knew that she wanted to do something in the food industry. Luckily she discovered EatingWell, where she's able to combine her love of food and writing.

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