If you haven’t tried delicata squash — an oblong-shaped winter squash with yellow-colored skin and green stripes — steer your shopping cart to the produce aisle. This great-for-you veggie is known for its soft texture (unlike other winter squashes, it can be easily sliced and chopped), its scrumptious flavor (similar to sweet potatoes), its tender skin (edible!) and its bounty of health benefits.
On the vitamin front, the delicata, with its orange-yellow flesh, is a vitamin A superstar, providing nearly all of our daily needs in one cup. A nutrient we can’t live without, vitamin A is essential for growth, healthy skin, vision and a well-oiled immune system. Delicata also packs an impressive vitamin C punch. Immune-boosting vitamin C helps the body maintain healthy tissues, heal wounds in a timely manner, and neutralize cell-damaging free radicals that can sow the seeds for disease.
Many studies have linked winter squash — delicata included — to a lower risk of certain cancers. Their fiber (perhaps more with delicata because you can eat the skin) and abundant carotenoids help shuttle out inflammatory and potentially cancer-causing substances from the body.
Those looking to lose or maintain weight will appreciate delicata’s health cred: half a squash delivers a scant 30-40 calories and is super low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Moreover, delicata’s slow-digesting fiber helps us feel fuller longer, so we’re not as inclined to reach for those chips.
And while delicata squash, like all winter squash, has more carbs than your average vegetable, recent research has made it clear that all starch is not the same: there are “nature-made” good carbs that get absorbed more slowly into our systems and then there are “refined” bad carbs that zip through us lickety-split. Thankfully, delicata is full of good carbs and all the benefits they reap: more stable blood sugar levels, longer-lasting energy, improved digestion and fiber-driven heart protection.
Select squashes that feel firm, especially near the stem ends, and that feel heavy for their size. Steer clear of those with blemishes or soft spots. Store delicata squash in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area for up to one month. Delicata may be cooked whole, split lengthwise, or sliced. As mentioned, the nutrient-rich skin is edible, so you can leave it on.
Delicata Squash with Quinoa Stuffing
Adapted from EatingWell.com , Serves 4
2 small delicata squash (12-14 ounces each), halved lengthwise and seeded
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
2½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup water
½ cup quinoa
1½ cups chopped leek (about 2 large), white and light green parts only
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried parsley
⅓ cup dried cranberries
⅓ cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Halve the delicata lengthwise and carefully scoop out the seeds to make four long “boats.” If the boats are too wobbly, take a very thin slice off the bottom so they’ll sit flat. Brush cut tops with olive oil (1 tablespoon for all 4), season with salt and pepper, and arrange cut-side up on the prepared pan. Bake until they are soft and just starting to char a little, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 350 degrees.
While squash is baking, prepare stuffing. Combine 1 cup water and quinoa in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with fork and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl.
Heat 1½ tablespoons olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add leek and cook, stirring constantly, until the leek is tender and edges are slightly browned—about 8 minutes. Add the leeks, thyme, parsley, cranberries, pecans, and salt and pepper to bowl of quinoa and stir well.
Spoon the quinoa mixture into the squash halves, packing as needed. Bake at 350 degrees until the stuffing is heated through, about 15 minutes. Tasty tip: Seeds may be washed and roasted.
Anne Palumbo is a lifestyle columnist, food guru, and seasoned cook, who has perfected the art of preparing nutritious, calorie-conscious dishes. She is hungry for your questions and comments about SmartBites, so be in touch with Anne at email@example.com.