As the harvest season winds to a close, we tearfully say goodbye to sweet summer melons and plump locally grown tomatoes and say hello to an assortment of beautiful and intensely flavorful winter squash.
Winter squash is far from a “one-size-fits-all” ingredient, if fact you might be surprised to find that there are often more differences than similarities between the varieties of squash. As the familiar varieties like butternut and acorn deliver familiar fall flavors; lesser known and equally coveted varieties like Hubbard and Sweet Dumpling add a new twist on old squash.
Late summer and early fall affords us with a plentiful supply of gorgeous (and versatile) squash, many of which if stored properly will last long into the cold winter months and provide depth and flavor to your hearty winter menus. Winter Squash is really good for you. Its packed with dietary fiber, low in fat and calories and vitamin C, making it a great choice during the cold, slow winter months.
Look for squash that is free of blemishes, cuts, bruises and soft spots to ensure maximum shelf life. The best squash will have a dull, not too shiny exterior and will be heavy for their size and have a tough, intact exterior. The stem, if attached should be dry, firm and not shriveled or black.
Our favorite varieties of Winter Squash:
- Possibly the most familiar variety of winter squash they’re on the smaller side and shaped similarly to an acorn.
- Choose acorn squash with mostly green skin, a few orange spots are ok but mostly green is best. The skin of the Acorn Squash is edible.
- The interior of the acorn squash is typically dull yellow/orange in color and has a mildly sweet and nutty flavor. Storage life is approximately 1-2 months if stored properly.
- Butternuts are generally medium to large sized, long and cylindrical at the at the stem end and round and bulbous at the base. Similar to the shape of a bell.
- The best butternut squash are those with and evenly colored tan or cream exterior with few blemishes or bruises.
- Butternut Squash has vibrant orange/yellow flesh that is sweet and pleasing. A classic ingredient in fall and wintertime soups. Store for 2-3 months.
- Hubbard squash is one of the largest varieties of winter squash that you’ll find with long storage potential.
- The exterior of the hubbard is quite variable in color, in fact it will range from Green and Light Gray in color to Bright Orange.
- One the interior the sweet golden yellow flesh tastes a bit similar to pumpkin and is often used as a pumpkin substitute. If stored properly, Hubbard squash will keep for as few as 3 months and up to 6 months!
- Spaghetti is typically a medium sized squash that is generally rounded and cylindrical in shape.
- Ideally, your spaghetti squash will have consistently colored skin ranging in color from pale to bright yellow.
- The least sweet of the winter squash varieties, the yellow interior of spaghetti squash has a very mild flavor and resembles thin pasta. Spaghetti squash will generally store well for about 2 months.
- A hybrid of acorn and sweet dumpling squash. This small squash is round and squat with pronounced ridges running from stem to base.
- Can be found as mostly bright yellow/cream colored accented with orange and green or may be mostly cream and green spotted on the exterior.
- The yellow flesh of the Carnival Squash is sweet and mellow, similar to butternut squash in taste. Store for up to 1 month in a low humidity environment.
- Delicata squash are typically on the smaller side of winter squash and identified by their tube-like shape.
- Identifiable by their delicate and distinct mostly yellow or cream colored skin with faint green stripes running from end to end.
- Often referred to as “Sweet Potato Squash” because it’s mild, creamy flesh
tastes similar to that of a sweet potato. Can be stored for 1-2 months or more in a cool, dry place.
Sweet Dumpling Squash
- Certainly one of the smallest winter squash varieties, but don’t underestimate the potential inside this little, round squash.
- Look for an exterior of yellow/ cream with orange and/or green highlights running from stem to base.
- The tender yellow/orange interior flesh can be slightly dry but is prized for its delicate, mildly sweet flavor. Will keep well for up to 1-2 months in a cool dry spot.
- This large variety of winter squash is most identifiable by its squat appearance and its bumpy, misshapen exterior and bulging “turban” protruding from one end.
- If you’re looking for a beautiful vibrantly colored squash, look elsewhere. Here you can expect a rough textured and dull orange exterior.
- When cooked, the yellow/orange flesh tastes nutty and mild with hints of sweetness. Turban squash can be stored for around 2 months, sometimes longer.
Kaboucha Squash – Pureeing and Soup
- Kabucha squash is a medium sized squash and can be identified by its short squat appearance, similar to a slightly flattened pumpkin.
- The exterior of the kabucha squash is typically a dark dull green with less noticeable green stripes of lighter green running vertically.
- Expect a moist, bright orange flesh that is very sweet and often used in place of butternut squash. Store this squash for up to a month in a dry, cool area.
Store squash in a cool, (55-60 degrees is ideal), dark place that is well ventilated. Make sure your chosen place for storage is free of moisture. Avoid storing squash on cold concrete floors or stacked on top of one another. Keep squash separate from apples, bananas, pears or other ripening fruit.
Cooking with Squash
Cooking winter squash is very easy, once you get past cutting them open. Many winter squash varieties have very tough exteriors that make them difficult to cut into pieces.
Easy method for baked squash: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, wash the squash completely. Then, using a sharp heavy knife, carefully cut squash into halves or quarters depending on how large it is and remove seeds and strings from the interior with a large spoon. Smaller squash can be cooked whole by making a few slits through the skin with a sharp knife. Next, Add about 1/4 inch of water to a heavy baking dish and place the squash in the dish with the cut side down. Bake the squash until soft when pierced with a fork or knife, about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size some may need less or more time.
Seasonal Squash Recipes
- Stuffed Chicken with Roasted Butternut Squash
- Butternut Bisque with Maple-Sage Cream
- Chicken Marsala with Acorn Squash
- Stuffed Beef Round Steak with Orange Spaghetti Squash and Bacony Brussels Sprouts
- Pork Chops with Maple Mustard Sauce and Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto
- Spaghetti Squash with Mushrooms and Parmesan