Apple and Pork Stuffed Acorn Squash
This Apple and Pork Stuffed Acorn Squash uses a number of classic Autumn ingredients…and one unexpected ingredient, too: vanilla beans!
This Apple and Pork Stuffed Acorn Squash post was sponsored by SLOFoodGroup, but the recipe and opinions are entirely my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Spiced!
The farm-to-table movement has been going strong for a number of years now. I personally love it! I enjoy learning about the farmers who work tirelessly to supply food for us. When I was younger, I didn’t think much about where my food came from. I just stopped by the grocery store, picked up what I needed and then went on my merry way. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that food has a story, too. It all comes from somewhere, and someone is responsible for producing the food that makes it’s way to my kitchen.
From cattle ranches in Nebraska to dairy farms in New York to peanut fields in Texas, I’ve had the chance to learn a lot about the food supply chain. Next up: vanilla beans.
Did you know that vanilla comes from orchids? In fact, Spanish explorers in the early 16th century came across vanilla and called it “vainilla” (little pod). That’s exactly what vanilla is…seed pods from specific varieties of orchids. When ripe, these seed pods are about 5-6″ long, and they’re filled with thousands of tiny seeds. One of my favorite ice cream flavors is Vanilla Bean, and those little dark specks in the ice cream are vanilla seeds. Kinda cool, huh?
Harvesting vanilla beans is a time and labor intensive process. The beans must be carefully cultivated and then dried and aged before they become the vanilla beans that we use in the kitchen. I’ve had the chance to talk with Shawn from the SLO Food Group recently, and he shared some personal photos from one of his recent vanilla bean harvesting trips in Tahiti. I am fascinated by the entire vanilla bean process!
Shawn is my go-to source whenever I need vanilla beans for recipes. Heck, some of the beans that I have in my kitchen could be the very beans we see in these photos. How cool is that?
Vanilla Extract vs. Vanilla Beans
I use vanilla extract quite a bit in baking, but I turn to vanilla beans when I really want to highlight the vanilla flavor in a recipe. Take this Gingerbread Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting for instance. That cake is a holiday favorite (I’ll be making it again this year), and the real vanilla bean seeds in the frosting produce a wonderful taste. Similarly, I love (!) using vanilla beans to make vanilla bean whipped cream. Adding a dollop of vanilla bean whipped cream to the top of hot cocoa? Winter time perfection right there!
To extract the seeds from a vanilla bean, simply slice the bean in half and then use the back of a paring knife to scrape the seeds out of each of the two halves.
Apple and Pork Stuffed Acorn Squash
As much as I love vanilla in desserts, I must admit that I rarely use vanilla beans in savory cooking. However, Shawn and I were chatting, and he mentioned that vanilla beans in Tahiti are commonly used in both sweet and savory dishes. Using that conversation as inspiration, I incorporated vanilla beans into a recipe with other classic Autumn ingredients. Not only is this Apple and Pork Stuffed Acorn Squash visually appealing, but it’s quite tasty, too!
I scraped out the seeds from two Tahitian vanilla bean pods for this Apple and Pork Stuffed Acorn Squash recipe. The vanilla isn’t overpowering at all, but it adds another layer of flavor to the finished dish. I made this for dinner earlier this week, and both Laura and I loved it! I didn’t tell Laura about my secret vanilla bean ingredient here, and she spent the entire dinner guessing what the flavor was. I finally told her, and she was like, “That’s it!” Combined with the tart green apples and the nutty flavor of the roasted squash, the vanilla bean seeds really add a fun background flavor. Give it a shot!
I highly recommend checking out SLO Food Group’s website for real vanilla beans. In addition to a variety of vanilla beans, Shawn also stocks a selection of dried mushrooms as well as premium exotic spices from around the world. The vanilla beans are shipped in vacuum-sealed bags, but the smell still permeates the package. I’m not kidding when I say that I could smell the beans from the package before I opened it! And the deep earthy smell of real vanilla is nothing short of amazing. Perfect for all sorts of sweet recipes…and now savory dishes, too!
Did you make this Apple and Pork Stuffed Acorn Squash recipe at home? Leave a comment! Or snap a photo and tag me on Instagram (@Spicedblog).
Looking for more vanilla recipes? Check out these favorites:
Vanilla-scented Morel Mushroom Mole (recipe courtesy of SLO Food Group)
Vanilla Barbecue Sauce (recipe courtesy of SLO Food Group)
Gingerbread Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting
Vanilla Cherry Tarts
Vanilla Pecan Snowball Cookies
Caramel Apple Crisp (Tip: try this recipe with real vanilla beans!)
Apple and Pork Stuffed Acorn Squash
- 4 medium acorn squash ~1-1¼ pounds each
- 4 Tbsp olive oil divided
- 2 cups wild rice
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 1 medium yellow yellow onion diced
- 3 celery stalks diced
- 1 cup corn fresh or frozen
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 2 Tbsp fresh sage minced
- 1 pound ground pork
- ½ tsp kosher salt plus more for roasting squash
- ¼ tsp pepper plus more for roasting squash
- 2 medium green apples peeled and diced
- 2 Tahitian vanilla beans sliced lengthwise and seeds scraped out
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Using a serrated knife, slice each acorn squash lengthwise; remove seeds. (Tip: Acorn squash have very thick skins and a serrated knife makes it easier to cut the squash in half.)
- Place squash cut-side up on a baking sheet; brush the tops and insides of the squash with 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Sprinkle a small amount of salt and pepper on top of each squash and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until flesh is fork-tender.
- Meanwhile, place the wild rice and chicken stock in a medium saucepan. Stir and bring to a boil over high heat. Once water begins to boil, reduce heat to low and cover pan with a tight-fitting lid. Simmer (without stirring) until rice has absorbed most of the stock (~30-40 minutes).
- Place the remaining 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, corn, garlic and sage; sauté for 5-6 minutes, or until vegetables have softened slightly.
- Add the ground pork, salt and pepper. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until pork is fully cooked (~10-12 minutes).
- Add cooked rice, green apples and vanilla bean seeds; stir until well combined.
- Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.
- Fill the squash halves with the filling (~1 cup per squash half) and roast for another 15-18 minutes at 325°F.
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Top Chef is my favorite TV show but sometimes the chefs incorporate vanilla or butterscotch into their savory dishes and I’m always like FIRM NO! But if you say vanilla is worth a shot in my dinner then I’ll take your word for it. (It’ll take a lot more to convince me that butterscotch goes with scallops.) I can see how vanilla would work with the apples though, and I’ll never turn down roasted squash! Have a great weekend, David!
So I don’t know about butterscotch in savory, but I have to say that you should give vanilla a chance. Going into it, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the vanilla with the apples, rice, squash and pork just works. It adds such a fun background flavor to the finished dish! But butterscotch with scallops? Uh, I think I’m going to pass there. Hope you had a great weekend as well, my friend!
This is really intriguing! I’m trying to taste it. I guess so often it’s used in sweets that I can’t separate vanilla from the sweets. Like figuring out pumpkin is a squash and not a pie! But I love this recipe.
That’s the thing! Vanilla is such a common dessert flavor, so it’s hard to imagine it in savory…but it works! The vanilla adds a wonderful complementary flavor to the squash + apples, and the entire dish is excellent for Autumn. I highly recommend trying it out sometime, Mimi! Thank you! 🙂
I’ve just bookmarked SLO Food Group’s homepage to get my vanilla later. This is such a cool recipe. I just went to a book signing/cooking event for Dori Greenspan, and she said when she writes recipes, her favorite thing to do is to have a “surprise ingredient” — one you wouldn’t expect in a particular recipe. She would certainly LOVE that there’s vanilla in this savory dish.
Yes! SLO Food Group is my go-to for vanilla. You can smell the wonderful vanilla before you even open the package. 🙂 So Dori definitely had some great advice there. A ‘surprise ingredient’ is what makes folks remember a recipe or dish. The vanilla here is definitely unique, but it’s delicious, too. It doesn’t overpower the dish, but instead adds a wonderful complementary flavor. It’s definitely a recipe worth trying sometime this winter! Thanks, Valentina!
Hi David! I love squash, especially acorn squash. Vanilla is an interesting twist! I make a stuffed squash using mild pork sausage, mushrooms, onions and wild rice. Squash, pork and apples are a perfect pairing!
Squash, pork and apples really are a wonderful combination, and now I can add vanilla to that list. The vanilla adds a background flavor that really is quite nice! Thanks so much, Dorothy…and happy early Thanksgiving, my friend!
I would never have thought to pair vanilla in something savoury like this, but would totally try it! Vanilla beans are really something special and I can definitely get behind the farm to table movement. I love using local products and supporting local farmers – it’s the best! Hope you’re having a great weekend, David 🙂
I’m with ya, Dawn! Vanilla in a savory dish is a new twist for me. I love desserts, and vanilla really is one of my favorite dessert flavors. I wasn’t sure what would happen with the vanilla + savory combo, but it works! The squash + apples + vanilla is a fun combo, and this recipe is perfect for cold nights. It’s so comforting! 🙂
That’s some fine-looking stuffed squash you have there. Great looking recipe you have there as well, and I love the vanilla addition. Speaking of vanilla, did you know that we can’t get vanilla extract here? It has 35% alcohol (I think) and therefore would have to be sold in our government liqueur stores. Instead we have vanilla sugar. So, every time I go, or some comes from the US we ask or get a big bottle at Costco and bring it back. But we can get whole beans. You can’t drink those.
Now, a search for acorn squash. The search is on.
Why thank you very much, Ron! Wow, what an interesting note about vanilla extract. You’re probably aware of this already, but you can make vanilla extract at home pretty easily. Just infuse good quality vodka with sliced vanilla beans for about 6 months. (Yes, it takes a bit of time…but it’s worth it.) And acorn squash, too? I’m surprised! Either way, do try incorporating vanilla into a savory dish. It’s a fun and unexpected twist!
Wow, I’m impressed you have personal connection to Tahiti vanilla growers! I actually did know that vanilla came from the Spanish word for little pod, but had no idea it came from such a pretty orchid. Live and learn!
The acorn squash looks great. I was going to say Thanksgiving side, but it’s a bit too important to be relegated to a side dish. Maybe a first course? Anyway, it looks delicious.
If only we could grow those orchids up here in the northeast, Frank! How cool would that be? But having Shawn as a connection is the next best thing. His vanilla beans are hand picked, and I’m a huge fan of the quality! This recipe definitely screams Thanksgiving, but it would also be good for any cold winter day. The apples + squash + vanilla is a surprisingly delicious combination!
I had no idea that vanilla came from orchids! And, I haven’t ever used vanilla in a savory dish – but I’m guessing it’s like cardamom and cloves – two spices I often use interchangeably in both sweet and savory recipes!
By the way, that stuffing with apple + pork + sage + vanilla beans sounds like it would have been so darn aromatic – so inviting! Wonderfully unique recipe, my friend!
Yes! Vanilla is part of a flower. Kinda cool, huh? And you make a good point about cardamom and cloves. Vanilla is definitely in that family of flavors. I was surprised at how much I liked vanilla in a savory recipe! This combo of flavors is a fun one…we had leftovers, and we were seriously excited for dinner that 2nd night! 🙂
I’m blown away at the photo with the gentleman holding all of those gorgeous, shiny vanilla beans. Wow! And I love the idea of trying vanilla in a savory dish like this. Sounds so delicious!
I agree, Marissa! That’s one of my favorite photos, too. I knew vanilla beans came from orchids, but it’s so fascinating to see these photos of the process. And, yes, vanilla in a savory dish is really cool! (Of course, I still love vanilla in desserts, too…you know me! Haha.) Thanks so much, my friend!
This apple and pork stuffed acorn squash looks delicious David. Interesting twist there with the Tahitian vanilla beans! And I enjoyed reading all about when you use vanilla extract or vanilla beans. I must admit I usually only ever use vanilla extract in my baking recipes. But I do use a split vanilla bean pod and the beans in my home made vanilla ice cream.
So I’m with ya here, Neil. I normally reserved vanilla and vanilla beans for baking and desserts…but it’s actually quite tasty in this savory recipe. The apples + pork + vanilla all come together for a delicious stuffing for these acorn squash. You should try it out sometime! And, yes, homemade vanilla bean ice cream is one of the greatest things ever!! 🙂
Absolutely FASCINATING! I had no idea that vanilla bean pods come from orchids. Who would have thought? And that is genius to use vanilla beans in a savory dish!!! Now I’m completely intrigued and dying to try it! Your delicious stuffed acorn squash here looks like the perfect way to start. What an informative and delicious post David!
Yes! Like you, I was absolutely fascinated with the growing process of vanilla. Now we know why the real stuff is expensive. It’s literally hand-harvested! I don’t mind it, though, as I reach for that bottle of vanilla extract almost every day. And the vanilla in a savory dish was certainly a fun twist. Unexpected, but quite yummy! Thanks, Shannon!