Get personal with squash

Let’s get personal, with squash!

Turns out there’s no need to buy a monster squash that requires a machete to open and a week to eat.

Instead, sort through the bins of local butternut and buttercup, ridged acorns and bulbous hubbards to find the long, narrow delicata with its pale yellow skin and distinctive green stripes.

Easy to clean, cut and cook, this single-serving Cucurbita pepo is a squash lover’s dream!

Delicata is often called peanut squash — which it resembles — or sweet potato squash. It may be named for its thin, delicate rind, which is actually edible when roasted. It’s milder and not as sweet as other winter squash, with a creamy texture

Nutrition plus

Delicata’s pale yellow flesh contains less beta carotene than its deep-orange cousins, but it’s still a good source of fibre, potassium, iron and vitamin A and C.

Buy and store:

•Delicatas and other local winter squash are available from now until December.

•Choose firm squash with no visible blemishes or soft spots.

•Store in a dry, cool, well-ventilated spot, not the refrigerator, and use within a month.

•For longer storage, butternut and hubbard squash are your best bets.

Another personal squash to look for is round, ridged sweet dumpling or carnival.

•Wrap cut pieces in plastic and refrigerate up to 5 days.

Prep:

•Delicata is often roasted, but can be microwaved, sautéed, steamed or stuffed with a meat or vegetable mixture.

•Split each squash in half lengthwise with a sharp knife and scoop out the seeds and stringy bits with a spoon. There’s no need to peel.

•Cook as “boats” or cut each half into half moons  to roast.

•Clean and slice squash a day ahead and refrigerate in a sealed plastic bag.

•To microwave halves, place cut-side down in a microwave-safe dish with an inch of water and cook about 10 minutes on high or until tender.

•To microwave whole, pierce delicata in several places. Cook on high for 8 to 12 minutes or until tender, depending on size. Turn over part-way through cooking. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Cut in half, remove seeds and serve, or scoop out the flesh and mash.

Serve:

•Delicata loves butter and chopped fresh herbs.

•Serve cooked squash halves with a tablespoon of brown sugar or maple syrup and a pat of butter in the cavity.

•Scoop out the cooked flesh and mash.

•Consider a creamy squash soup with a dash of curry.

•Roast: Mix 2 tbsp oil with 2 tsp chopped thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Halve delicata lengthwise, remove seeds and cut crosswise into slices 1-cm wide.

Toss with oil, arrange in single layer on cookie sheet and roast at 400°F 25 to 30 minutes, flipping with a spatula at halftime.

•Roast oil-slicked mushrooms alongside then stir together for a great side dish.

•Save and toast the seeds.

quinoa-and-pork-stuffed-delicataQuinoa-Stuffed Delicata

Quinoa and ground pork make a tasty stuffing for small, long, easy-to-prepare delicata squash. You can even eat the skin! Make the stuffing a day or two in advance or prepare the entire recipe a day ahead and reheat at 350°F (180°C).

4 delicata (peanut) squash (1.5 kg)

3/4 cup  raw quinoa

1 1/2 cups  chicken or vegetable stock

1 lb  lean ground pork

1 tbsp each fresh oregano, parsley and basil, or 1/2 tsp  dried

1 tbsp  vegetable oil

1 medium yellow onion, halved, thinly sliced

1/2 cup  thickly sliced cremini mushrooms

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds with a spoon. Season cavity with a little salt and pepper and arrange cut-side down on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake until flesh is tender but sides are not collapsing, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 350F (180C).

Meanwhile, bring stock to a boil in a medium pot. Add quinoa and return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff quinoa with a fork, cover and let stand 15 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and cook pork until no pink remains. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir in oregano, parsley and basil. Transfer to bowl with quinoa.

Add oil to same skillet and sauté onions for 2 minutes. Add mushrooms, garlic and balsamic vinegar; continue to sauté for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, quinoa and pork. Check salt and pepper. Mix well, stirring until heated through.

Spoon quinoa mixture into cooked squash halves, pressing down gently. Bake squash on same parchment-lined sheet about 15 minutes, until stuffing is heated through. Serve hot.

Makes 4 main-course servings.

First published in The Toronto Star.

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