Article by Aaron Gilbreath
My favorite fall food, you ask? Hands down, the delicata squash. Admittedly, I love pears. I can eat pumpkin pie all day (and I do), and I look forward to fresh chestnuts with such intensity that summer can feel like a form of gastronomic tantra. Still, few things taste more like fall to me than this simple squash.
Named, I assume, for its delicate flavor, and given the –ata suffix to sound sexy yet sophisticated, this slender heirloom bears the green-on-yellow stripe pattern of a classic, 1960s Hang Ten shirt, the firm shell of a pumpkin, and the flavor of corn and sweet
potato. On the spectrum of popular squashes, it might have a lower profile than the ubiquitous butternut and meatier acorn, and sure, its name might not be as cute as the adorable sugar loaf, but the subtle flavor and creamy texture is what earns it devotees.
Some people seem to treat all squashes like spaghetti squash, carving out the meat and tossing the skin. Not me. I bake my delicatas whole, at 350 °F for about forty-five minutes. Then I slice them in quarters and serve the wedges hot, on a plate, like some sort of glowing orange, raw food pie. Delicatas do contain some seeds and fibers to be scooped, but there’s no need to ditch the skin; these aren’t prickly pear cactus pads. Once baked, the skin turns tender, offering those of us in the “skin-on set” a perfect firmness that yields to each bite with the softest snap. It’s a nice counterpoint to the velvety sweet meat which, when I’m feeling hyperbolic, I like to call “Nature’s mousse.”
Meat and skin, smooth and firm – the delicata’s combination of textures is as scintillating as its flavor, a mix far more interesting than ordinary old butternut. Sure, you can go the typical American track and slather it with butter, drizzle it with maple syrup, or sprinkle on cinnamon and brown sugar. Or you can season it with salt and pepper, herbs or olive oil. I don’t. Not because I’m so healthy (I ate a whole bag of dark Guittard chocolate chips over the last three days), but because it’s unnecessary. When you
get a good one, adulteration only hides the delicate(ata) flavor. To my mouth, this is one of those cases where less is more and the best approach is a hands-off one. (Though you should eat it with your hands rather than a fork.) It’s also one of those cases where, when I’m chewing, I realize that another sign that you’re getting older is when the flavor of a single, perfectly ripe fruit or vegetable can momentarily relieve the ache of being persistently single. Momentarily. I said the same thing about Maryhill, Washington peaches last month.
When Aaron Gilbreath isn’t demeaning the size of my vocabulary, he writes. As matter of fact he writes so well his work can be found in places like the New York Times, Paris Review, Gastronomica, Portland Mercury, Yeti, High Country News and Alimentum. His grandmother often told him, “Ess, ess,” in Yiddish. He recently told the clerk at the grocery store fish counter, “More tentacles, please.” This literary burrito devotee can be found online at http://aarongilbreath.wordpress.com/