While pumpkin continues to be the reigning king of all things autumn, presiding over an illustrious array of both sweet and savory seasonal dishes, countless other squashes and gourds are forced to watch from the sidelines, all but forgotten on those dusty supermarket shelves. The pumpkin’s immense popularity has in fact gotten it into a bit of trouble this year, scaring bakers and cooks all across the country with the threat of shortages. Though shaken, I was not compelled to buy out every last can of puree still lingering at the store (but I will admit it crossed my mind once or twice,) because I have a secret weapon; an oblong, yellow and green trick up my sleeve.
Long overlooked for that iconic symbol of fall, the delicata squash may actually be my all time favorite, even a step above the pumpkin. Gasp, heresy, you say? Not at all! Because the delicata has such thin skin, you don’t actually have to peel it before baking and eating it, making it so many million times easier to prepare. And that flavor, oh, it’s just as good if not better than its orange-fleshed cousin. Yet for all its ease and versatility, you would be hard pressed to find a decent dessert recipe that called for one, despite the thousands upon thousands- Perhaps millions- of pumpkin options.
A new day is dawning, thanks to that little pumpkin puree snafu, and while other cooks are scrambling to fill the void, I’d like to recommend my new friend, the delicata, to pick up the slack. Of course, you can very happily puree it after baking and use it for pies and breads, anything you might use pumpkin puree for. But I’d rather push further, really take advantage of its unique colors and shape, and feature it in a more unique fashion.
Roasted in a simple mixture of olive oil and maple syrup to enhance its natural sweetness, small pieces are scattered throughout a soft vanilla bean panna cotta, which is perched on top of a “crust” of crunchy gingerbread crumbs. For great drama in presentation, I chose to top each dessert with a grand flourish, inserting crispy dehydrated rings of delicata and finishing it off with a few candied seeds, utilizing all the goodness this squash has to offer. To simplify, these final two elements can easily be removed from the equation without harming the end results, and in fact, my mom did claim she liked her plate better without them anyways.
To each their own. This is the only sort of drama that I happen to like.
Delicata Panna Cottas
1 Medium (Approximately 20-Ounce) Delicata Squash
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup
Pinch Salt and Pepper
Gingersnap Crumb Crust:
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Ground Ginger
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Margarine, Melted
1/4 Cup Molasses
Yogurt Panna Cotta:
1 Cup Unsweetened Soy or Coconut Yogurt
1/2 Cup Regular (Full Fat) Coconut Milk
3/4 Cup Vanilla Coconut or Soy Creamer
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot
1 1/2 Teaspoons Agar Powder
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
Beginning with the roasted delicata, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Cut your delicata squash in half, and remove the seeds from both halves, reserving them for later. Take once half and chop it into small, raisin-sized pieces. With the other half, slice it into rings, as thin as you can manage- If you have a mandoline, you may want to use it now. I would recommend slicing the rings no thicker than 1 – 1.5 mm, as they will not become crisp otherwise. You may wish to cut out about one inch of each ring so that they’re not perfect circles to make them easier to insert into the dessert.
In a large bowl, stir together the oil, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Add in the pieces first, tossing to coat. Carefully scoop them out of the bowl using a slotted spoon, and arrange them in one even layer on a baking sheet. Now move the rings into the mixture, tossing to coat as well, and arranging them in an even layer on a desperate baking sheet. Finally, take your reserved seeds, rinse and dry them of excess squash guts, and toss them in the remaining maple mixture. Spread them out on the same sheet as the delicata rings.
Once the oven hits temperature, take the baking sheet with the pieces first, and bake alone for 15 – 20 minutes, until lightly browned and tender. Remove them and let cool on the sheet.
Lower the oven to 300 degrees, and move in the rings and seeds once it gets to that temperature. Bake for 30 – 45 minutes, keeping a very close eye on them so that they don’t burn. Bake them for as long as possible before they start looking too dark. Let cool on the sheet.
Moving on to the gingersnap crust, turn the oven back up slightly to 325 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, spices, and salt to evenly distribute all of the dry goods throughout the mixture. Separately, whisk together the melted margarine and molasses, and then pour both into the bowl of dry ingredients. Stir to combine, vigorously if need be, as it will be a fairly thick batter. Scoop out the resulting batter and use your hands to press it into one large sheet of cookie dough onto your prepared baking sheet. Use all the space you have to make it as thin and even as possible.
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the edges darken. Don’t be alarmed if the center is actually still bubbling; I promise that it will solidify when it cools. Let the giant gingersnap cool on the sheet.
Once completely cooled, break it up into large chunks (it should be very crisp) and place them into your food processor. Pulse until it becomes a coarse meal. Set aside.
Place a medium saucepan over moderate heat, and whisk together the yogurt, coconut milk, and creamer. In a separate dish, mix together the sugar, agar, and arrow root before slowly sprinkling it into the liquids, whisking vigorously the whole time. Cook the mixture, while continuously whisking gently, until it comes to a boil. Remove from the heat, and equally distribute the liquid between your prepared molds. Measure out about 1 cup of your roasted delicata pieces, and drop in equal amounts into each mold. Some will sink and some will float, making for a more or less even distribution. (If you have extra pieces left over, they’re fantastic tossed into a salad, or on top of a pizza, or in a casserole… Or just plain as a side dish, of course!) Let the panna cottas sit at room temperature until they’ve cooled completely, at which time you can move them into the fridge to chill.
To serve, spoon a good amount of crumbs onto each plate (be generous, you should have plenty), and turn out one panna cotta on top. Insert the crispy delicata rings as desired, and sneak a few roasted seeds in beneath, just to cover the top of the panna cottas. Serve, and be prepared to impress!