Through the years, I’ve cooked my way through lots of squash—and it can be a struggle. Even though I’ve conquered my fear of butternut squash, I was relieved when chef Dan Barber helped develop a smaller, sweeter version called honeynut.
But this fall, I discovered the easiest squash I’ve ever cooked. It’s called delicata, and it’s a cousin of zucchini, but with seeds. Think of it as a starter squash for home cooks who are intimidated by big honking versions like turban, or who don’t like the blander taste of acorn or spaghetti squash.
Delicata looks something like its name. The ones I’ve cooked are between eight and 12 inches long, and they’re easy to hold, sort of like a vegetable baton. Most of them are cream colored with green stripes, or a slightly darker golden color with stripes. The flesh is orange, like butternut squash. Each one yields enough cooked squash for one hearty appetite.
Delicata squash can be cooked in a traditional way: Simply cut it open lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and goo, and roast it in the oven for about an hour at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. You can then empty out the flesh, fluff it up, and enjoy a simple side dish. Delicata also can be stuffed (see the tips below).
Its edible skin is one of the best features of a delicata squash, and one that sets it apart from other squashes. When the squash is cut into slices, the skin around each slice softens and caramelizes during the roasting process, resulting in a sweet, textured taste. Cooked delicata is even delicious cold, as a snack.
Allison Richard, executive chef at the High Hat Cafe in New Orleans, clued me into the way she uses delicata. After roasting thin slices, she builds a salad from greens, pepitas, pickled onion, goat cheese, and currants, then places half moons of delicata across the bowl. Richard tops her salad with Green Goddess dressing. I’ve also used the maple vinaigrette sold at Trader Joe’s, which adds some sweetness.
It’s almost impossible to screw up delicata. The only mistake I’ve made is cooking it too long, which causes the flesh to fall off the skin, but I still happily ate my mistake.
- 1 delicata squash
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. ground pepper
- 1 tsp. other spices of your choice (optional)
Set the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice the ends off the squash and cut it open lengthwise. Remove the seeds and scrape out any residual goo. Flip over the squash halves and cut them into one-inch-thick slices. Place the half moons in a bowl and toss with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and spices.
Line a baking sheet (or oblong cake pan) with parchment paper. Place the half moons around the edge of the pan, leaving some open space in the center. (The edges will heat up faster and allow the caramelization to take place.) Roast for 30 minutes. Flip over each slice so that the browned surface is exposed. Roast another 15-20 minutes. Test for doneness: A fork should easily go through the squash, but the slice should still hold together. Remove the pan and serve.
- Feel free to experiment with the size of the slices. Thicker ones will take longer to cook; thinner ones cook faster. Richards slices her squash very thin to go on top of a salad, about the width of carrot curls.
- If you’d like to stuff the squash halves, choose grains, dried fruit, white beans, or precooked Italian sausage. Stay away from wetter fillings, because delicata doesn’t provide the structural support of heftier squash varieties.
- For a sweeter flavor, try adding nutmeg, ginger, or cinnamon; za’atar and Aleppo pepper will be more pungent. I’ve tossed mine with ras el hanout, an Indian spice blend. With any spices, add a little at a time; don’t go too strong or you will overwhelm the squash.
- You can marinate the slices in ponzu or a soy sauce mixture with rice vinegar for about 30 minutes before cooking. Drain the marinade before tossing with the olive oil, salt and pepper, and any spices.
- Avoid coating slices with honey, syrup, or sugar before roasting. The long cooking time means these substances are likely to burn before the squash is fully cooked.
- If you have leftovers, cold delicata makes a nice snack. Try it on a cheese or veggie board.