In our home, I am alone in my love for winter squash.
I love every part of it: the rich yellows and oranges, the nutty-sweet flavors, the way they caramelize so delightfully in a searing hot oven. I love the cinnamon and maple that complement them so beautifully, and the comfort-food-style creaminess they embody. But I get it. Squash is one of those divisive foods many of us just haven’t had done really well. I think it’s nearly a sin to steam winter squash and serve it without the love and care a little seasoning can offer. I just about never steam it anyway, because I find roasted squash so irresistible. And why serve it plain when there are so many other ingredients to add, such as, in the case of my favorite delicata squash recipe, almond extract, maple syrup, and butter?
I used to try so hard to convince squash skeptics of its many virtues, and given certain varieties, like butternut or acorn squash, I still do. But give me a delicata squash and I will gladly accept it for myself and only myself, greedily stuffing these golden rings into my mouth the moment they come out of the oven. Really, I could eat at least two whole delicata squash prepared this way in a single sitting. It’s virtually impossible not to eat three or four slices before they’ve even made their way to the plates. I should say that everyone in my house does enjoy this recipe, even a particular squash skeptic. Still, he doesn’t mind the uneven distribution of the finished product. And if he did, well—too bad, this time. 😉
I roasted and photographed this batch on a bright morning with the cat weaving her way around my ankles. She desperately wanted some squash, but alas, she is a cat.
It’s perfectly acceptable to use olive oil or another healthy dairy-free butter substitute for this recipe. I’ve used olive oil before with delicious results, and if you’re vegan or otherwise dairy-free, go right ahead. But if butter is a part of your diet, I recommend using it over oils. It’s the best third wheel for the maple syrup and almond extract. There’s really no exact natural substitute for the flavor of butter, at least not that I’ve found.
I’ve also used this same method and flavoring for other squash, like butternut or acorn. They’re delicious as well! But delicata squash is my favorite, because the skin is soft and easily edible after it’s been washed, and unlike acorn squash, for example, this one is really easy to slice. Sometimes when I have to cut an acorn squash, I feel like I might accidentally cut my hand off. Not just a fingertip (been there, done that, though with a decent repair) but an entire hand. And I have a good knife, too! So I go for delicata when I can, with its smaller, more uniform size/shape and softer (gorgeous) skin. And that’s why there are piles of randomly-acquired other squashes in my pantry. Some day they’ll get this treatment, but not until I’ve run out of delicata.
Delicious caramelized maple roasted delicata squash with almond extract, butter, and sea salt--with a vegan adaptation!
- 1 medium delicata squash, washed
- 2 teaspoons melted or softened butter (or olive oil, for dairy-free/vegan)
- 2 teaspoons maple syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- olive oil for roasting
- sea salt to taste
Preheat oven to 450F.
Slice squash into circles about 1/4-inch thick. Try to keep them as uniform as possible. Using one hand to hold each circle flat against the cutting board, use a spoon to scrape out the guts and seeds. Flip it and scrape again if necessary.
On a parchment-covered baking sheet, place the squash rings flat and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Swirl them around a bit to coat, flip them, and swirl again. Making sure they're all coated nicely and laying flat, load into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or once the undersides look golden-brown.
Flip the rings over and bake for 5 more minutes.
While they're baking, mix the maple syrup, almond extract, and butter or olive oil in a medium bowl (big enough for your rings to fit). When you pull the squash out of the oven, immediately transfer the rings to the bowl and gently toss to coat them in your flavor "sauce."
Sprinkle with sea salt to taste. Try not to eat them all before they make it to the plate.