Delicata Squash

What are your family’s favorite traditional Thanksgiving side dishes? Every family has at least a few. Whether it’s the cranberry jello-mold that Aunt Mary makes (is it ever a good idea to eat something with “mold” in the title?) or Uncle Sal’s holiday punch (the real reason everyone passes out after dinner), there are always a few familiar plates on the Thanksgiving feast that are there out of obligation to tradition alone.

That is by no means to say that they’re not delicious. At the Winner family feast, we have two in particular that are holiday-only specialties: Auntie Chick’s Carrot Pudding, and Grandmother Ruth’s Lemon Butter. These are my favorite part of the holidays, and there’s a story that goes with each of them.

Carrot Pudding is really just icing-less carrot cake that’s disguised as a casserole. Who in their right mind is going to argue with carrot cake as part of the main course? And every time SUE! makes it, she fondly remembers that when she was growing up in the days before food processors, her Uncle Bill lovingly grated pounds and pounds of carrots for this special-occasion-only dish.

And when I was in grade school, I used my Grandmother Ruth’s Lemon Butter recipe to win the blue ribbon at the 4-H recipe contest at the Burlington Center Mall. Woot! Woot! It’s an intensely lemony spoonful that marries meringue lightness with applesauce consistency. If only the recipe wasn’t a secret, it would be a huge hit with today’s coulis- and foam-obsessed fine restaurants for sure.

Now that the holidays are right around the corner, I’m in hunter/gatherer mode. Hunting for new dishes, and gathering obscure ingredients. I have a stack of (literally) 11 cookbooks sitting on my desk at the moment for easy hunting. And gathering doesn’t get any easier than a stroll through the Pike Place Market. Sosio’s was up to the challenge, and I was able to walk out of the stand with some gorgeous Delicata squash.

I should preface the impending Delicata-love-fest that you’re about to read with the confession that I L-O-V-E squash. Summer squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, it really doesn’t matter. I’m like nuts for it. So it should be no surprise that I was blown away by this recipe. But I can usually tell when a recipe’s got universal appeal, and my guess is that this one is a winner.

If you’ve never experimented with delicata squash, it’s long and cream colored, with dark green horizontal stripes. It’s sometimes called potato squash, sweet potato squash, or Bohemian squash. Delicata has a thick pumpkin-like skin, sweet, nutty meat, and a whole mess of seeds inside. Like most winter squashes, it’s high in vitamins C and A, magnesium, potassium, and a good source of calcium and fiber. Delicatas come into season in August and last through the fall, but thanks to a hearty 7-8 month shelf life, are readily available all year.

To get to the good stuff, slice it in half, scoop out the seeds then roast, steam or braise. I didn’t try it with this squash, but I’ve heard that the seeds are absolutely delicious when tossed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and then toasted.

I’m going to give it to you straight: I was not loving the delicata squash as I was trying to peel it. It is a pain. But please don’t let that dissuade you from making this; I can practically guarantee that you’ll forget about the pain of awkwardly peeling it the second you take the first bite. When cooked, the squash pieces develop a firm coating that gives way to a lovely creamy interior, just like a good truffle. And the herbs balance the nutty sweet squash nicely by lending an unexpected hint of savory flavors.

Peeling the squash is a pain, but the rest of the recipe is simple. I also found that if you can cut the squash into smaller pieces, preferably along the green stripes, then hold it with a dish towel and use a sharp vegetable peeler, it wasn’t all that bad. I jumped all over this recipe because it’s from Jerry Traunfeld’s The Herbfarm Cookbook (by way of The Herbfarm is probably the best restaurant in the Seattle area, growing a huge portion of their own food on site and crafting breathtaking menus with uber-fresh, local ingredients. I can only imagine how unbelievable this dish could be under their Chef’s skilled care.

But for now you should see how delicious it is under your care. I have a feeling that it’s got the makings of a new holiday tradition for your family. Enjoy!

Delicata Squash with Rosemary, Sage, and Cider Glaze

Click here to print this recipe.
The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld
Serves: 8
Takes: 45 minutes

2 medium delicata squash (about 2 pounds) or other firm winter squash
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup very coarsely chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 cups fresh unfiltered apple cider or juice
1 cup water
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Cut the squash horizontally in half, and scoop out the seeds. Cut the squash into manageable slices (preferable along the green stripes) then peel with a sharp vegetable peeler. Cut into uniformly sized 1 to 1/2 inch chunks.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add the sage and rosemary and cook, stirring often, until the butter just begins to turn golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Do not brown the herbs. Cooking the herbs in butter mellows their flavor and improves their texture.

Add the squash to the skillet, then the apple cider, water, vinegar, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat at an even boil until the cider has boiled down to a glaze and the squash is tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Taste and season with pepper, and additional salt if needed.

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1 comment

  1. Sue November 25, 2009 at 6:10 pm Reply

    Hi Amy – I found this delicata squash at Wegman’s. I did not do anything tricky with it – cubed it, stirred it with a little Olive Oil and salt and roasted it. It was delicious – even Dad (who might eat Alpo dog food if breaded and fried) commented WITHOUT prompting, that it it was “good.” I will definitely put it on my regular shopping list.

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