Do you love butternut and acorn squashes? Then you should try their diminutive and delicate cousin, which is even easier to prepare and just as delicious.
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slices of roasted delicata squash on a platter
Credit: Mikkel Vang

The delicata squash is aptly named: It's small in size with finely textured golden flesh that is wrapped in a delicate skin. Of all the winter squashes, the delicata is the most tender and easiest to prepare. It also tastes quite sweet, which is why it's sometimes called sweet potato squash. When sliced and cooked, the beautiful shape and colorful, striated skin of the delicata squash add a lovely touch to autumn meals.

Interestingly enough, the delicata squash is in the botanical group Cucurbita pepo, which includes mostly summer squashes such as zucchini, yellow, and crookneck (as well as acorn squash); all of these squashes can be sliced and cooked without peeling. Delicata and acorn squash, though, bridge the seasons and make their appearance in early autumn, before most other winter squashes come on the scene. You'll find delicata squash in grocery stores and at farm stands through early winter.

What to Look for When Shopping for Delicata Squash

Delicata squash range in size from about four inches to seven inches, and they are oblong in shape, with long ridges. When shopping for delicata chose firm squash; never buy squash that has soft spots or holes. When you pick one up it should feel solid and heavy for its size. You may think you won't know how to tell but trust yourself: If you pick up a squash and it's noticeably light, that is a sign that the flesh is drying out. One delicata squash is usually enough for each person. At home, store the squash in a cool, dry place. They will keep for about 10 days but do not last as long as butternut or acorn squash.

How to Prepare Delicata Squash

As long as you scrub them clean, all parts of these squash are edible, including the skin and seeds. Use a sharp chef's knife and hold it firmly to simply slice across the squash into thick or thin rings, or cut them in half lengthwise (always). The seeds, although small, make a nice snack when roasted. They should be scooped out with a spoon and tossed with olive oil or sunflower oil, salted or spiced, and roasted at 325°F until browned, about 20 minutes.

The small size and thin skin of the delicata squash make it quick to prepare; no whacking it open with a cleaver or struggling to peel off the skin as can happen with larger, thicker-skinned squash like kabocha or butternut. Once sliced, delicata squash roasts quickly, about 20  minutes in a hot oven will turn the slices golden brown, as this basic recipe with herbs shows. A simple glaze that's sweet or spicy or a sprinkling of spices is a nice touch. This ease of preparation suits weeknights or prepping ahead for autumn meals. We like to cook a few extra delicata squash if there is space on the pan; any leftover pieces of roasted squash can be eaten at room temperature and are a great addition to vegetable and grain salads.

Delicata squash don't have enough flesh to make it worthwhile for making a mash or purée, but they are the perfect size to stuff and bake, can be turned into a satisfying side dish by arranging thick rounds snugly in a baking dish, drizzling with cream and fresh sage before popping them in the oven.

Consider the delicata your go-to squash for times when you prefer something tender, delicious, and uncomplicated. They also dress up nicely for holiday meals, when tossed with lady apples or garnished with pomegranate seeds they bring a celebratory seasonal flavor.

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