This Spinach Pesto Stuffed Acorn Squash is a hearty vegetarian dinner with a vegan / dairy free option. It's the perfect prep-ahead dinner for special occasions and company!
Did you know that I used to be a vegetarian?
While I personally feel much better eating a Paleo-ish diet, I can still appreciate a hearty, nutrient-packed vegetarian dinner like this one. (It's actually vegan too if you omit the optional cheese!)
I usually include one vegetarian meal on our weekly gluten free menus and we always include substitutions to make the whole menu vegetarian friendly. This recipe was on our menus last January and it was a big hit!
While you could of course substitute a different leafy green for the Swiss chard, don't be intimidated if you haven't used this powerhouse ingredient before. Watch my short video on how to chop Swiss chard and you'll see how easy it is to prepare!
The spinach pesto here is super versatile too. It's a great one to double up on and store in the freezer or use on something else later in the week. I hope you love it!
Spinach Pesto Stuffed Acorn Squash
For the Spinach Pesto
- 1/2 garlic clove
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- large handful fresh basil
- 1/2 oz parmesan cheese (optional)
- 2.5 oz spinach
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp lemon juice (juice of 1/2 lemon)
- 2 Tbsp water (or as needed for a smooth consistence)
For the Stuffed Acorn Squash:
- 2 acorn squash
- 2 cups cooked quinoa (or 1 cup uncooked)
- 8 oz sliced mushrooms
- 1 small shallot
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 bunch Swiss chard
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 4 oz goat cheese (optional)
For the Spinach Pesto:
- Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth.
For the Stuffed Acorn Squash:
- Preheat oven to 400 F.
- Pierce 2 acorn squash. Place on sheet pan and cook ~1 hour or until knife inserts into squash easily.
- Cool, cut in half and remove seeds. Sprinkle each half with salt and set aside.
- Add 2 cups water & 1 cup quinoa to large pot. Bring to a boil, turn heat to low. Cover & cook 20-25 minutes.
- Chop 1 shallot & mince 2 garlic cloves.
- Remove stems from 1 bunch Swiss chard. Rough chop leaves.
- In a large sauté pan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add 1 shallot, 2 minced garlic cloves, 8 oz sliced mushrooms, chopped Swiss chard and salt and pepper to taste.
- Sauté until vegetables are softened and chard is wilted.
- In a large container, mix quinoa, sauteed chard/mushroom mixture and 1/4 cup pesto.
- Stuff quinoa mixture into each acorn squash half.
- Cover with foil and rewarm for ~20 minutes or until heated through.
- Optional: Once heated through, remove from oven and sprinkle 1 oz of goat cheese on each half.
What are the nutritional highlights of stuffed acorn squash?
Curious about how this stuffed acorn squash stacks up nutritionally? Here are some of the nutritional benefits from the key ingredients:
- Acorn Squash: Providing Vitamin C, B vitamins and plenty of fiber, acorn squash is an excellent gluten free carb choice.
- Quinoa: One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein (including all 9 essential amino acids) and 15% daily value of iron, making it an excellent choice, especially for vegetarians. Quinoa is also high in manganese, magnesium, phosphorous and folate.
- Mushrooms: There are of course many kinds of edible mushrooms but the ones you most commonly find in the grocery store are either white button mushrooms or crimini (baby bella) mushrooms. Mushrooms are an excellent source of the antioxidant selenium as well as B-vitamins, Copper and Potassium.
- Swiss Chard: Full of Vitamin K, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, magnesium, potassium and iron, Swiss chard is worth adding to your veggie rotation if you don't already eat it. You can eat both the leaves and the colorful stalks.
- Walnuts: Many consider walnuts to be the healthiest nut, in part due to their high antioxidant content. They may help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes, as well as supporting healthy brain function and healthy gut bacteria. They are a true super food!
- Basil: A significant source of Vitamin K, basil also may reduce memory loss, blood pressure, and depression. Smelling basil also may help you feel more alert so consider growing some in a kitchen garden to smell whenever you need a boost!
How else can I use spinach pesto?
One of my favorite meal prep strategies is something I like to call “Prep Once, Eat Twice“.
I love taking an ingredient like shredded chicken or, in this case, spinach pesto and incorporating it in different ways throughout the week. This helps keep meal prep manageable while avoiding eating the same thing every night.
When we had this stuffed acorn squash on the menu, we also used the pesto that week for a chicken with zucchini noodles (check out my video on how to make your own zoodles here!) Two totally different recipes, one delicious sauce!
Spinach pesto is also lovely on pasta, shrimp or salmon. Use it anywhere you normally enjoy pesto!
How can I meal prep this recipe?
At first glance, it may look like this recipe has a lot of steps but fear not! You can totally prep it ahead to make it a viable option even on busy weeknights.
If you are serving this on a weeknight, I recommend baking the acorn squash ahead of time, as it does cook for quite a while.
You can also make the entire quinoa stuffing ahead of time including the pesto, quinoa and veggies.
If you do those steps as part of your weekly meal prep, all you'll have to do on the day you serve this squash is stuff the squash and reheat. To reheat, preheat the oven to 375 F, lightly sprinkle each acorn squash half with salt, stuff it with the quinoa mixture and cover with foil. Heat for 20 minutes or until heated through and sprinkle with goat cheese if desired.
What are some other gluten free vegetarian recipes?
Here are a few of my very favorite gluten free vegetarian recipes!