In the flesh

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 November, 2011, 12:00am


One of the most delicious winter squash dishes I've tasted was also one of the simplest: the chef had cut the vegetable in half lengthwise, scooped out and discarded the seeds and fibres at the core, seasoned it with salt, pepper and melted butter, then baked it until tender. It wasn't the preparation method that made it taste so good, it was the squash itself: a sweet-tasting, silky textured variety called delicata.

Other types of winter squash have a hard rind that makes them good for storing but difficult to cut into whereas the skin of the delicata is firm but easy to slice (and it can be eaten when cooked). The squash has a distinctive appearance: it's long and thin, with vivid green stripes running down the length of the otherwise pale, off-white skin. When buying the squash, the skin should be slightly glossy and the vegetable should be heavy and firm; reject those with soft spots.

In addition to baking the delicata as described above, the squash can be pan-fried with butter and thyme. Cut the vegetable in half length- wise and remove the seeds and fibres. Place the squash cut-side down on a cutting board and slice it into 1cm-thick pieces. Melt butter in a skillet and lay the squash pieces in one layer in the pan. Cook them until browned on one side, then turn them over and brown the other side. Season with salt and fresh thyme leaves then add some water to the pan. Cover with the lid and simmer until the squash is just tender. Remove the lid and cook until the water evaporates, then sprinkle with pepper and serve.

For a richer dish, cut the seeded squash halves into 5mm-thick pieces. Put the slices slightly overlapping in a baking dish, season with salt, pepper and a small amount of freshly grated nutmeg, then drizzle with cream. Sprinkle with grated gruyere and bake at 200 degrees Celsius until the squash is tender and the cream is thick and bubbling.