One of my favorite things about being a food writer—aside from the eating, of course—is that I get paid to research and write about foods I might never have tried otherwise. Such is the case with delicata squash. I’d seen it on restaurant menus and in food magazines, but until I sat down to work on an assignment about winter squash, I assumed it was just another butternut wannabe. I was so very wrong.
Delicata, as the name would imply, is more delicate than its hard-shelled brethren. It’s got yellowy-orange flesh, somewhere between butternut and acorn in appearance. In terms of flavor, it’s mellow, nutty, lightly sweet. But the real distinction is in its exterior. Creamy-white, with dark green striations running along its oblong body, that skin is not only beautiful. Once cooked, it’s also edible. That’s right: you don’t have to peel it. And even before it’s cooked, it’s easy to cut.* Roasting seems to be the preferred method, and once I tried it for the first time there was no turning back. I’m addicted, friends. To a squash.
Roasting does more than turn that bullet-proof vest into a cardigan. The dry heat transforms the flesh into something verging on spectacular. Like, pick-up-the-phone-and-call-your-mama great. If, like me, you aren’t quite capable of cutting perfectly even slices, some pieces will crisp up and look nearly burned—trust me, those are the best ones. Imagine eating a bowlful of chestnut chips.
I’ve been buying a delicata every week at the farmers’ market and thoroughly enjoying myself—mid-afternoon I’ll roast up a batch, and nibble on it until dinnertime. But then I thought I should do something more with it. Something meal-like. Here’s what I came up with, a warm salad that mixes the sweetness of maple, the mysterious subtlety of cumin, and the chewy fun of Israeli couscous (or, as we’ve renamed it for our pasta-loving boy: macaroni balls). Stephen ate his with some leftover chicken mixed in, but I loved it just as it was. Harry, of course, refused to taste it, though he was curious about the pretty half-moons.
It’s freaking autumn in a bowl, and it’s one of the tastiest things I’ve made in ages.
* I did have one very strange experience, in which my delicata turned out to be hard as a rock. Absolutely uncuttable, even more difficult than butternut. I gave it a blast in the microwave to soften it, and my best knife still couldn’t penetrate it. On the verge of tears, I gave up and threw it away.
Warm Delicata Squash & Israeli Couscous Salad with Maple-Cumin Vinaigrette
Cooking Time: 60 minutes (20 minutes active)
Weight Watchers: Each serving is 6 points
1 medium delicata squash, halved lengthwise, seeds removed, and sliced into thin half-moons
1 large shallot, bulbs separated
salt & pepper
1 cup reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 cup Israeli couscous
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup toasted chopped pecans
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/3 cup drained and rinsed chickpeas
1 tablespoon nut oil (I used sunflower seed oil)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cumin
crumbled goat cheese, optional (WW: this is NOT counted in the points listed above)
- Before you start cutting the squash, heat the oven to 425°F with the racks set in upper and lower thirds.
- Grease or line two baking sheets. Place the squash slices in a single layer on the sheets, along with the shallot bulbs. Coat lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt & pepper, then bake for 40 to 45 minutes, switching placement of baking sheets halfway through.
- After you turn the sheets, make the couscous: Put the broth, water, and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the couscous, cover, and lower the heat. Simmer according to package directions (mine takes 12-15 minutes). As soon as the couscous is cooked through, turn off the heat, stir in the raisins, and let it sit, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Put the pecans, parsley, and chickpeas in a mixing bowl large enough to hold the couscous. Put the oil, vinegar, maple syrup, cumin, and salt & pepper into a small container with a tight-fitting lid and give it a good shake, then add it to the bowl.
- By now your squash and shallots should be done. Transfer most of the squash slices to a serving dish (I made concentric rings, but you don’t have to be fancy if you don’t feel like it). Save the crispiest ones for yourself, a little pre-meal treat.
- When the shallot is cool enough to handle, chop it roughly and add to the mixing bowl. Add the couscous-raisin mixture, and toss thoroughly. Spoon this on top of the squash, sprinkle with the optional goat cheese, and serve.
Now that you’re all inspired, here are some other delicata recipes you might like:
Delicata Squash with Spicy Miso Butter Squash, by my friend Molly Watson, which inspired
Roasted Delicata Squash Salad, over at 101 Cookbooks
Roasted Delicata Squash Stuffed with White Beans, Greens, and Sage, from Eggs on Sunday
Delicata Squash Rings, by another friend, Stacie at One Hungry Mama