Why It Works
- To get great browning, the squash slices need ample room on the baking sheet; if they're crowded together, they'll steam instead of caramelize.
- To promote even browning, arrange the slices around the perimeter of the baking sheet and rotate the sheet halfway through cooking.
- Roasting the squash slices in butter, rather than olive, coconut, or vegetable oil, accentuates more of the sweet and nutty flavor notes of the delicata, while also contributing to a creamier interior texture.
While some winter squashes can be tricky to wrangle (kabocha) or cut up (butternut) or peel (the groovy acorn), working with delicata squash is a stroll down easy street. Its shape is straightforwardly oblong and its green and white striated skin is thin and edible, which means it doesn't need to be peeled. Though delicatas vary in weight, they tend to be manageably sized, and are easily dispatched with the average chef’s knife. Whether you slice it, dice it, or stuff the halves, it roasts up sweet and tender. Here’s more on how to treat delicata, as well as my favorite method for roasting it.
What to Look for When Buying Delicata Squash
The first thing to confirm is that you’re in the right season. It’s a relatively small window for this autumn squash, varying of course, by geographic region. But at least in my Northeastern nook of the country, delicata comes out at the very end of summer and stays available just through early winter. Individual delicata squash can vary quite a bit in weight: I encountered tiny, four-ounce squashes early in the season, but I've also purchased delicatas upwards of 2 pounds each. When you’re following the recipe below, look for medium-sized delicata (about 1 pound each) and try to find squashes with similar body shapes so all the slices will be as uniform as possible to promote even cooking. Stay clear of squashes with soft spots, mold, or bruising.
How to Store Delicata Squash
You don’t need to refrigerate your delicata squash; just store them in a cool, dry place. To prevent rot on any side, consider storing them on a surface with good air circulation; I keep them in a metal basket, but you could also use a colander or other perforated container.
How to Prepare Delicata Squash
You definitely want to wash your delicata squash well because you’re going to eat those pretty skins. Thoroughly dry the squash before prepping so you don’t have any slippery moisture on your cutting board. Use a sharp chef’s knife (an 8-inch blade is big enough) and cut off just the very top and bottom of the squash. I like to stand the squash up on the larger cut side, as it’s nice and flat, then slice down the center lengthwise to make two even halves. Use a soup spoon to remove the seeds and the fibrous flesh within each lobe. Then, lay each squash half cut-side down on a large cutting board (make sure you have enough room to work unencumbered). Use a ruler and a sharp chef’s knife to mark out 1-inch increments down the length of each squash half on the skin side, then slice each half crosswise into 1-inch slices.
I tested this recipe with smaller slices; when I roasted 1/2-inch slices, they shriveled up as they cooked and ended up looking pretty sad. I also tried 3/4-inch slices, and while they roasted nicely with just one squash worth of slices on a baking sheet, once I scaled up to two pounds (to feed four people), the large number of slices crowded together on the baking sheet and everything steamed instead of browning. Two pounds of 1-inch slices fit comfortably on the sheet tray with plenty of room in between each slice to facilitate browning and prevent steaming.
The Best Temperature for Roasting Delicata Squash
Some squash and other starchy tubers and roots benefit greatly from low and slow roasting (sweet potatoes, for example). But for delicata squash, whose sweetness doesn’t need much cajoling, the real goal is tasty caramelization around creamy tender flesh. When I tried roasting my squash slices at 300°F (150°C) to see if the low and slow method would work its magic, the interior became chalky rather than creamy and the browning was subtle at best. After testing through many increments between 300° and 425° (220°C), I found that the best combination of browning on the exterior and tenderness inside was produced by quick, high-heat exposure. The less time the squash stayed in the oven (after cooking through to become soft), the smoother the interior texture.
To intensify the heat exposure, I moved the baking sheet down to the lowest position (after trying the middle and lower-middle positions). I treated the baking sheet to parchment paper and foil linings, but found that the bare sheet pan promoted the most browning and ease of flipping (the foil lining ripped under my kitchen tweezers). And while the squash slices browned well, the browning wasn't consistent: the slices on the edges were over-browning, while the slices in the center of the sheet were still pale. By arranging the squash slices evenly around the perimeter of the baking sheet and avoiding the middle of the pan altogether, then rotating the sheet halfway through roasting, I got even browning on all the slices.
The Best Fat for Roasting Delicata Squash
I tossed separate batches of delicata squash slices in canola oil, olive oil, refined coconut oil (melted), and melted butter before roasting them off. All of these iterations browned, but the flavor differences were remarkable. The butter brought out the sweet and nutty notes of the delicata better than any other fat tested, and coated the slices better than the oils; every time I coated squash slices with oil, a small pool of fat inevitably formed and remained at the bottom of the bowl. Since you want all the fat for flavor and texture, superior cling is a butter asset. While the oil-coated squash slices seemed a little slick after roasting and cooling, the squash slices seemed to absorb the butter as they sat outside of the oven, which made the interior of the butter-roasted squash creamier and the exterior slightly softer. I found the brittle skin that resulted from the oil batches to be unappealing. For creamy, evenly browned, flavor-packed delicata squash, roast in butter every time.
- 2 medium delicata squash (about 2 pounds, 907g total), washed and dried
- 2 tablespoons (28 grams) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon (4g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Adjust oven rack to lowest position and preheat oven to 425°F (218°C).
Trim both ends of each delicata squash. Stand one squash up on the larger cut side and, using a chef’s knife, slice it lengthwise, down through the center of the squash, creating two even halves. Use a soup spoon to scrape out and discard seeds and any fibrous flesh. Repeat with second squash.
Place all 4 squash halves cut-side down on a large cutting board. Cut each squash half crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices. Transfer slices to large bowl. Add melted butter, salt, and pepper, and toss to evenly coat squash slices.
Transfer squash slices to a rimmed baking sheet, arranging them around the perimeter of the sheet with an even amount of space between each slice. Roast until squash slices are golden brown on the bottom, about 12 minutes. Use kitchen tweezers or tongs to flip each slice. Rotate baking sheet 180 degrees, return it to oven, and continue to roast until second side is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove sheet from oven, transfer squash slices to a platter, and serve.
It’s important to use medium delicata squash for this recipe, about 1 pound each, so there aren’t too many slices crowding the baking sheet and inhibiting browning. If you want to make a larger batch, use two trays and roast them one at a time.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Roasted delicata can be served hot, at room temperature, or cold. Leftovers straight from the refrigerator can be used for cold salads, or reheated gently in a skillet with a little extra butter.