I’ve been eating a ton of squash this winter. This was all precipitated by my introduction to the amazing “delicata” squash starting last fall, which opened my eyes (well, mouth) to a much more delicious world of squash than I had heretofore experienced.
For most of my life, I have not been a big fan of squash. Oh, I liked pumpkin pie (a lot), but that’s about it. I would eat an acorn squash occasionally. The way I would cook it is very common, cut in half, scoop the seeds, and generously fill the cavity with honey, butter, and occasionally other seasonings (salt, pepper, nutmeg, etc) and roast until soft. Usually topping with more honey. This was very sweet, so although I liked it, I only liked it for about half a squash and then it got cloying and I didn’t want it any more, even when it came to leftovers. In addition, although I liked the flavor of the honey roasted acorn squash, I wasn’t keen on the stringy mushiness that develops when squash is cooked.
Same basic problem with another recipe I’d been making frequently using squash. It was basically a vegetable stew with green and red peppers, tomatoes, corn, tomatillos, chiles, and some butternut squash chopped up. Though this was tasty and filling, it wasn’t really on account of the squash, that was more of a general bulking agent for the soup.
All the same, I was looking for other ways to incorporate it. On the plus side, squash was very filling, it kept long (longer than my other vegetables), it was healthy and low-calorie and therefore conducive to my recent journey to excise the remaining pounds leftover from a too-long-ago pregnancy. Also there was plenty of squash to be had, and I was getting tired of stir fries, with a lot of fruits and vegetables not really at their best seasons.
So one day I picked up some mystery squash at the local grocery store and decided to give it a shot. I was feeling like doing some cooking, but I was getting tired of the butternut squash stew, and my fallback acorn squash was a little too buttery and honeyey to be as healthy as I was trying to be. Back home, I googled recipes for the name on the label, delicata, and looked for something quick and easy! The video below was my inspiration.
It was fast, easy, and I quickly whipped it up. And was absolutely blown away that squash could be so good! There was deep, delicious, savory filling flavor and a creamy texture with none of the dreaded stringiness. This has since become a staple recipe! I made my own modifications to try to make it a little healthier too, by using less oil.
One of the big draws of this recipe (and amazing things about delicata) is that you can eat the skin too, and it is very soft, almost indistinguishable from the flesh. Upon learning that it’s a close relative of the acorn squash, and one day not having been able to find delicata squash for a week or so in the stores, I decided to try the same recipe with acorn squash.
I was a little concerned that the acorn squash rind would be too tough (based on when I’d baked and eaten it out of the shell), but in fact, it cooked up absolutely delicious (no stringiness, again!) and the rind, while slightly chewy and not completely soft like the delicata, was perfectly edible. Which was good, because I didn’t want to figure out how to peel it with all those ridges! It would also have worked to hold and eat the rings like orange slices, if you tried this and found that either you or your mealtime companions found the texture of the rind offputting.
In my recipe variation, I use 1 tablespoon of olive oil poured into a saucer, then dip each ring on both sides to give an even coating. This is usually enough for an entire squash. It adds flavor while roasting and also helps the other ingredients stick, and there’s no oil lost by tossing it around in the bowl (and no bowl to clean, bonus!).
I also modified the recipe by sprinkling with powdered sage instead of thyme. I use thyme some of the time (heehee :P) but as mine can’t make it through the cold winters, and gets used up quickly in dry form, I found myself substituting the easy-to-buy powdered sage (after I finished using up my own dried sage leaves). I think the flavor works well with the squash. Sometimes I use both if I have them. I also use salt (a lot!) and freshly ground black pepper (moderate) as in the video.
After coating both sides with oil and salting, peppering, and saging both sides of the rings, I add the onion component (on the top side only). Instead of scallions, I used up a lot of my slightly overgrown green onions towards the end of harvest season. After washing them and cutting off the roots and pulling off any wilted leaves, I chopped them roughly into manageable lengths, added a little water, and pureed in the mini food processor to make a thick slurry. The mixture is easy to spoon on the edges of the rings (most of it ends up in the center hole, but that’s fine). I used a couple of tablespoons per pan of rings, and put the rest in a ziploc bag in the freezer where it is super handy for my next batch, after a quick thaw.
Any other type of onion or scallion would probably work fine too, I would still recommend pureeing a batch in advance and freezing to have on hand so you don’t have to get utensils messy making a tiny amount each time. Simply chopping up an onion or green onion and sprinkling it on top doesn’t do much for this recipe… it burns and doesn’t infuse with onion flavor. Some people leave out the onion altogether but I think it really compliments the squash flavor and adds complexity.
While the oven is roasting the rings it’s time to address those delicious seeds! If you like pumpkin seeds you’ll like squash seeds. (If you’ve never had homemade pumpkin seeds… they’re way better than what you can buy). This is my method, perfected over the years, of roasting squash seeds. Delicata squash have a lot of seeds and are great for this recipe. Acorn squash usually has a moderate amount, and butternut not so much, but both taste fine (along with standard pumpkin, of course!). Their skins are thin, you do not have to shell them to eat them, just crunch up the whole thing. I’ve even roasted turban squash seeds, which are big and fat but still roast up pretty well. The only squash seed I’ve had that didn’t toast too well (too hard) was kabocha squash, but that’s a whole other adventure (I wouldn’t personally recommend kabocha for the squash rings recipe, either, having tried, though it has other uses which I might blog about later :). But you can probably substituted a variety of other different winter squash in the squash rings recipe successfully, I’ve yet to try butternut but I think it’d work well, and acorn is the easiest of all to come by. I have a sweet dumping (which is similar to acorn but colored like delicata) which I’m planning to try cooking this way as well.
First dump all the seeds directly into a saucepan while you’re cleaning out the squash. Dont’ worry about separating the seeds and pulp, dump all the pulp in there too. It adds flavor.
Pour a generous amount of salt on top (I used several tablespoons of kosher salt here) and then add several cups of water (depending on the amount of seeds, but not that important, you’ll pour the water off later).
While the squash is roasting, bring the seeds and salted water to a boil (be careful, it will foam up and boil over if you’re not watching it!) then reduce the heat so it’s just boiling gently and not frothing over and cook it while the rings roast. The cooking time isn’t particularly important (basically the more water evaporates, the saltier your seeds are getting) as long as you don’t forget and cook all the water out and burn the pulp, at which point just abandon the project and look forward to your rings :P. I usually let the pulp and seeds simmer on the stove until the rings are almost done (which takes about 20-25 minutes or until roasted golden brown but not burnt, with a sweetish taste, longer for acorn, more rings, or thicker slices).
Then, pour the water off over the sink through a mesh strainer, and dump the pulp and seeds onto a sheet of tin foil (highly recommended, even if you didn’t use it for the squash rings themselves).
Spread the pulp and seeds around with the back of the stirring spoon to separate them into a single layer. On my oven at least, the edges cook faster (which is the opposite of what I always expect on a pan like this, for some reason…) so if you have big pieces of pulp left push them to the edges instead of the middle so they’ll dry out. They’ll basically dehydrate along with the seeds and stick to the seeds, tasting about the same, and you can peel them off and eat them along with the seeds (especially delicata which has great pulp…acorn just isn’t as pulpy).
Once the squash rings come out, lift the foil sheet containing the squash rings onto a cutting board, and put the foil with the seeds and pulp onto the same cookie sheet instead, and pop it back in on the top rack (where you cooked the rings), same temp (450). Check every few minutes (may take 3-8 minutes depending on how wet everything is). If you hear popping sounds, you’re going to want to reduce heat or turn the oven off. This sound means they got really hot and the “shell” of the seeds exploded off the kernel. Once you notice the seeds starting to brown around the edges of the pan, even if there is still wetness in the middle of the pan, turn the oven off and close the door to let them dry out the rest of the way gradually. If there’s any sign things are starting to get burnt, but there are still wet areas on the pan, leave the oven door ajar at this point to prevent further burning. If they aren’t completely dry when the oven cools off some more, you can always reheat slightly to take care of it and crisp up any remaining pulp, just be careful about burning as squash seeds burn REALLY quickly (almost as fast as melted cheese on a tortilla!).
This is a yummy snack for after dinner or watching movies or just hanging around the kitchen 🙂 you can peel everything off the foil at once or just eat it from there as you go (guess which one I usually do). Feel free to add other spices or toppings to the wet seeds before putting them in the oven, too, like paprika, garlic powder, etc. whatever floats your boat 🙂
Estimated caloric count for my delicata squash rings recipe adaptation (based on MyPlate calculations) is 204 calories for 16 rings of delicata squash or about 1 average acorn squash. It feels way more satisfying than that though! 🙂 Let me know if you try this or you have other favorite ways to prepare them!