If you ever seen these creamy, green-striped yellow squash, I highly recommend snapping them up! As their name suggests, their skin is delicate when cooked and is far from the tough fare you'll find with other varieties. They boast a sweet, buttery flavour which will shine through in a dish.
Selecting the right squash isn't as hard as when dealing with other, softer-skinned vegetables. External inspection is the name of the game, with attention payed to blemishes, colouring and general appeal. If your grandmother would buy it, you probably should too.
One rule of thumb that I always use when selecting my delicata (or any other pumpkin or squash) is to go for the smaller ones. These are usually far more flavourful, and need less seasoning when cooking. Another bonus of going small is that the seeds aren't quite developed yet, and add a nice texture when cooked.
It goes without saying that squash, pumpkin (and, for that matter, all other vegetables) should, where possible, be bought from organic vendors and independent sellers. With delicata squash, however, you have little choice: these are the preserve of specialists when it comes to farming.
Supermarket squash are, generally, miserably bland and tasteless when cooked. Unless you're willing to throw the spice rack at them, your tastebuds will be sorely disappointed. Buy the same variety of squash at a small grocer or a farmer's market, though, and you're in for a treat. I'd love to find out how exactly supermarket chains manage to achieve such uniform blandness across all their products - @ me if you have any clues.
The simplest way to cook your delicata is to slice them into rounds, about 1cm thick. Oil and salt them lightly before grilling them at 200°C for 10 minutes on each side. This brings out the delicata's subtle flavour in a wonderful way, and is a foolproof addition to any meal.
One of the many things I love about pumpkin and squash (and there are many) is their endless versatility. Whether it's a quick fix or a complex culinary experiment, they're a fantastic canvas on which to exercise your creativity. Their flesh can easily be transformed to suit a plethora of dishes, and is suitable for all kinds of cuisine. While I often go for simple grilling to accentuate the delicata's flavour, I wanted to develop a more inventive dish that places the squash in the middle of things, where it belongs.
The recipe below is simple and easy, but has a world of flavour wrapped up in it. Throwing some garlic and sage in with the delicata adds a lovely nuttiness that's reminiscent of pesto, while the salty crunch of the fried dulce provides a perfect contrast to the delicata's sweetness. To really get the most out of this amazing vegetable, you need do nothing more than dab a little apple cider vinegar. Try it out at home, and let me know what you think!
Pumpkins and squash are both members of the cucurbit family (I'll leave the latin at the door), and originally come from the Peruvian Andes. They can be stored as they are for years without going bad, but are ready to use without any faffing about. Amazing, right?
Grilled Delicata with Watercress & Dulse Crackling
Takes 30 minutes (15 prep, 25 cook)
1 small delicata squash (+/-20cm in length)
5 sage leaves
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp good quality walnut oil*
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
3 tbsp cooking oil
6 dulse leaves
2 handful watercress
*substitute for good quality olive oil if you don’t have walnut oil.
Preheat the grill to 180C.
Halve the delicata squash lengthways, removing the hard base of the stem, and hedgehog the flesh, taking care not to go through the outset flesh.
Run the squash halves under the tap to get water into the cuts, and drain. This will help cook it more evenly under the grill.
Grill the squash halves, cut sides up, for 15 minutes on the middle shelf.
Mince the garlic and sage and mix well with the oil, apple cider vinegar and seasoning.
Remove the squash from the grill and spread the oil mix onto each open side, making sure to get it down into the cuts.
Turn the grill up to 200C and cook the squash for a further 10 minutes until well browned and soft (it shouldn’t give much resistance when squeezed).
Slice the radish and set aside, ready to serve.
In a frying pan, heat the cooking oil on high. When it is hot, lay the dulse leaves in the oil and fry until they turn dark brown, about 2-3 seconds on each side. Leave them to cool and drain on some kitchen paper. Dispose of the used cooking oil responsibly.
Serve one half of the squash per portion. Lay it on a bed of watercress, add the sliced radish and garnish with the dulse crackling. Serve straight away to void the crackling losing its crunch.
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