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Delica Winter Squash
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Delica squashes are round with a flattened, uniform appearance, averaging 16 to 23 centimeters in diameter, and have a rough, brown stem that is sometimes covered in red wax. The rind is semi-thin, smooth, slightly ribbed, and has a dark green base with light green striping and specks. The rind also ripens from green to brown-green when mature. Underneath the surface, the flesh is bright orange, fine-grained, dry, and dense, encasing a central cavity filled with stringy fibers and flat, cream-colored seeds. Delica squashes, when cooked, have a soft, tender, and creamy consistency with a rich, very sweet, and nutty flavor.
Delica squashes are harvested in the summer can be stored through the winter.
Delica squashes, botanically classified as Cucurbita maxima, are a hybrid variety that belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family. The early-maturing cultivar was first developed in Japan and is a type of kabocha squash, favored for its sweet, nutty flavor and smooth flesh. While Delica squashes are widespread across Japan, they have also become one of the most popular varieties grown in Italy. The squashes are one of the first varieties available of the season and are often sold in local Italian markets with a signature red wax on the stems to extend the storage life and prevent the squash from ripening too quickly. Delica squashes are highly favored by consumers for their smaller size and are commonly purchased whole for use in everyday culinary applications.
Delica squashes are an excellent source of beta-carotene, which is the orange pigment found in the flesh. When beta-carotene enters the body, it is converted to vitamin A, which can help prevent vision loss and repair cell damage. The squashes are also a good source of minerals such as copper, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc, and vitamins such as vitamin B and vitamin C.
Delica squashes are best suited for cooked applications such as roasting, steaming, baking, and frying. The tender, sweet flesh can be incorporated into both sweet and savory dishes, and when roasted, the flesh develops a caramelized exterior. Delica squashes can be cubed and tossed into stews, soups, and curries, fried into tempura, stirred into gratins and casseroles, sliced into wedges and baked as a French fry, mixed into risotto, or minced and stuffed into pasta. The squashes can also be roasted and served in grain bowls, baked into pies, cakes, and other pastries, or blended into mousses, creams, and jams. In addition to the flesh, the seeds can be cleaned, salted, and roasted as a crunchy snack or salad topping. Delica squashes pair well with herbs such as rosemary, sage, and thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, cheeses such as brie, parmesan, ricotta, and gorgonzola, raisins, fish such as salted cod or smoked salmon, quinoa, and polenta. The fresh squash will keep up to five months when stored whole and uncut in a cool, dry, and dark place.
In northern Italy, many different squash cultivars have been cultivated for hundreds of years, but the use of squash in culinary applications significantly increased during the season of Lent. The soft, dense squash flesh was used as a meat substitute, and over time, many of the meatless lent dishes became frequent everyday meals. In the modern-day, squash varieties such as the Delica are especially beloved and used in the city of Mantua in northern Italy. Mantua is known for its squash cultivation, and the symbol of the city is often a pumpkin. Mantua is also famous for its signature dish, tortelli de zucca, which mixes a filling of parmesan cheese, spices, amaretti, Delica squash, and mustard, and is then stuffed into tortellini. Tortelli de zucca is traditionally served on Christmas Eve in Italy as a cleansing meal before the more substantial, meat-filled Christmas Day feasts.
Delica squashes are native to Japan and are a type of kabocha squash. While the exact date of origin is unknown, the variety was later introduced to Europe, where it became widely cultivated throughout the Lombardy region of northern Italy. Today Delica squashes can be found through local markets and specialty grocers in Europe, Asia, and South America. The variety is also exported from Italy to the United States and is available through online seed catalogs for home gardening use.
Recipes that include Delica Winter Squash. One is easiest, three is harder.