Menu
Search
Menu
Close

We make mistakes so you don’t have to.

Try CooksIllustrated.com Free for 14 Days

Email is required
How we use your email address

The Easiest Winter Squash

By Lan Lam Published

Tired of struggling to peel and cut heavy-duty squash? Try something more delicate.

A few years ago, this magazine ran a tip on how to break down a large, dense winter squash such as Hubbard: Place it in a zipper-lock bag and drop it onto asphalt from chest height, smashing it to pieces. It sounds severe, but taking a knife to a giant rock‑hard squash (even a modest-size butternut can be a struggle) isn’t for the faint of heart, never mind that peeling its tough skin is a real chore.

Allow me to suggest an alternative: crenellated, creamy yellow delicata squash. These beauties, which are available from late summer through early winter, boast thin, edible striped skin that softens when cooked. Their small size means they are relatively easy to cut and seed, which makes preparation a snap. What’s more, they offer a delicate, nutty taste that’s entirely different from the pronounced sweetness of most winter squashes.

Because they are small and have thin skins, delicata are much easier to cut and seed than larger winter squashes.

Mild delicata is complemented by flavorful browning. That can be achieved by sautéing slices, but doing so requires multiple batches since each flat side needs to be touching the pan to pick up color. Oven roasting is a better option since you can prepare enough squash to serve four on a single baking sheet. The squash can then be finished with fresh herbs or a simple sauce.

Most recipes call for simply arranging oiled squash slices on a baking sheet and roasting. But as the squash cooks, its water evaporates, leaving each piece with a leathery surface and a dry interior. I figured I’d have better luck with the technique that we use for other hard vegetables such as carrots: Oven-steam the squash until tender, and then brown the exterior.

 

We first oven-steam the squash under aluminum foil until it is tender; we then remove the foil and continue to roast, flipping the squash halfway through so it browns on both sides.

Roasting the squash on the lowest oven rack brings it closer to the heat source, helping it brown better and faster.

I halved and seeded three squashes, sliced them ½ inch thick—skin and all—and tossed them with oil and salt. After spreading the slices into an even layer on a baking sheet, I covered the sheet with aluminum foil and placed it on the middle rack of a 425-degree oven. The foil trapped steam and helped the slices cook evenly without becoming desiccated. After half an hour, the slices were tender, so I removed the foil. Within minutes, any residual moisture evaporated and the starches and sugars on the surface of the squash began to brown. After 15 minutes, I flipped the slices and then let the second side turn deep golden brown, which took about 15 minutes longer.

These squash slices were tender and moist, but I was sure I could speed up the cooking and coax an even fuller, richer flavor from the delicata. I moved the oven rack to the lowest position so that the baking sheet would be closer to the heat source. This shaved 15 minutes off the total time and deepened the browning.

To reinforce the delicata’s unique nuttiness, I dotted it with butter for the final 10 minutes—enough time for it to brown with no risk of burning. These tender, golden slices looked gorgeous, and each bite featured a slightly resilient strip of skin and toasty squash flavor—all without breaking a sweat.

Recipe Roasted Delicata Squash

Tired of struggling to peel and cut heavy-duty squash? Try something more delicate.

Drizzle These Sauces On Top

Recipe Goat Cheese and Chive Sauce

This cool, creamy sauce has several layers of tang with goat cheese, lemon zest, and chives.

Recipe Basque-Style Herb Sauce (Tximitxurri)

This sauce has it all: brightness from fresh parsley and sherry vinegar, spiciness from raw minced garlic, and a special smokiness from smoked paprika.

Recipe Spicy Honey

This sauce has just the right balance of sweet and heat and the perfect consistency for drizzling onto anything.

Comments