When it comes to methods of cooking this type of tough, thick-skinned produce, a slow-cooker may not be your first thought; in fact, the machine is an ingenious way to cook a whole squash. Plus, it’s almost entirely hands-off. Pop any big, round winter squash (kuri, kabocha, acorn, etc.) into the slow cooker and hit start. Meanwhile, the rest of the dish—components of which can be prepared in advance—is quite simple. Boil grains, toast nuts, whisk together dressing. Say hello to your new favorite cold-weather side dish. —Rebecca Firkser
4 hours 50 minutes
3 to 4
3 to 4 pounds
red kuri, kabocha, or acorn squash (about 1 to 2 squash)
olive oil, divided
hazelnuts or pecans
apple cider vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
mixed tender herbs like parsley, cilantro, dill, and chives, chopped, divided
feta cheese, crumbled or cut into planks
Aleppo pepper or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Give the squash a good scrub to get rid of any debris stuck to the skin.
Place the squash in your slow cooker (you may need to cut off the stem or turn the squash on its side to fit) and cook on high for 3 to 4 hours or on low for 5 to 6 hours, or until a cake tester or paring knife stuck into the squash slides in easily. Remove squash to a cutting board.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325°F. Toss nuts with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a big pinch of salt on a sheet pan and toast until deeply golden, tossing occasionally, until golden and toasty-smelling, 8 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool. When cool, use a small bowl to gently crush the nuts.
Bring a medium saucepan of well-salted water to a boil over medium high heat. Rinse spelt and boil until al dente, 20 to 50 minutes depending on the type of grain you purchased. Most packages will include directions for how to simmer grains to absorb a specific amount of water; cooking grains like pasta ensures they’ll have a bit of bite to them instead of turning out mushy. There’s no specific science to this, simply test a grain every 10 minutes after they cook for 20. Like dry beans, each variety and brand of grain will cook for a different length of time. Drain grains well and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, and miso, then slowly stream in 1/4 cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour off 2 tablespoons of dressing into a small bowl and set aside. Mix spelt into dressing, then stir in the chopped herbs and half the nuts. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Set aside.
Cut squash into 4 or 6 wedges (carefully if it’s still hot to the touch) and remove pulp and seeds if desired. Transfer to a serving platter and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle remaining dressing over the squash, then spoon dressed grains over. Top with remaining nuts, feta, and pepper flake if using.