You may have seen some of the many colorful varieties of winter squash at your local market, in your GoFarm Local Food Share, or at our Mobile Market. Not sure what it is or what to do with it? We’re here to help!
What is Winter Squash?
Winter squash is similar to summer squash, they are both in the Cucurbit family (Cucurbitaceae)- which also includes cucumbers, watermelon, gourds, pumpkin, and luffa. Summer squash are the softer-skinned varieties that we see coming out of local farms earlier in the season (June through August in Colorado). These are zucchini and yellow squash, and a few unique varieties like patty pan squash. Winter squash are the thicker-skinned squash that are harvested in September and into fall. Unlike summer squash, you won't eat the skin of winter squash (except for a couple delicate varieties whose skin can be eaten when cooked.) Most winter squash varieties have yellow-orange flesh, and the deeper the color, the more vitamins the squash contains.
Winter squash is the perfect fall food because its thick skin gives it a long shelf life (can be stored until after harvest season ends), it is full of nutrients to keep us healthy into cold season, and it is hearty and delicious in both savory and sweet recipes! There are many varieties of winter squash, but here are a few we think you should try this season - along with suggested recipes (feel free to substitute different varieties for one another in the recipes)!
The Acorn squash is fairly easy to identify because its shape resembles an acorn! It is typically green on the outside but can have patches of orange and sometimes look like a small pumpkin with deep ribs. Its yellow-orange flesh has a mild flavor when cooked, so the squash is often stuffed with flavorful combinations like herbs, sausage and apples.
Don’t overlook this squash because of its unusual appearance! Grayish-blue and slightly bumpy, the Blue Hubbard might surprise you with its bright yellow-orange flesh and semi-sweet flavor. 19th century seedsman James Howard Gregory developed this variety (named after his washwoman Elizabeth Hubbard) to improve upon the fibrous and poor flavored squash varieties available in America at the time. The hubbard varieties would become one of the most sought-after squash in the United States for its creamy, sweet, and nutty flavor. In addition to blue, there is a Gold Hubbard squash which has a bright orange rind.
Similar to Acorn squash, Buttercup has a dark green skin and bright orange flesh. But Buttercup will have a rounder shape and sometimes come with a navel, or belly-button like protrusion. A closely related variety known as the Turban squash really shows off this cap on the blossom end. Buttercup squash’s flavor is sweet and nutty, but the texture can tend to be on the drier side, which is easy to fix by steaming or baking, especially with oil or butter.
Butternut squash is a popular one, found in many grocery stores and grown all over the world. It has a bright orange flesh and smooth, tan skin. Its name can be explained by its sweet, rich, and nutty flavor. Butternut is one of the denser winter squashes- so is a great way to bulk up a recipe and add tons of nutrients. It is an excellent source of vitamins A and C and dietary fiber. It can be prepared in so many delicious ways, but can elevate a soup or sauce by roasting and then pureeing along with broth and spices.
Carnival squash is a hybrid of the Sweet Dumpling and Acorn squash- they can be difficult to tell apart, but for culinary purposes, they are all basically interchangeable. You’ll notice its fun, speckled and striped skin, and find it in a variety of colors ranging from bright orange to green to yellow. It makes lovely fall decor and thanks to its long shelf life, can be enjoyed after being on display for weeks or even months! It has a buttery sweet flavor and smooth texture when cooked!
Delicata Squash is a great choice for easy prep, because the skin is thinner than most other winter squashes and doesn’t need to be peeled before eating. But, this makes it a poor candidate for long-term storage, so you’ll want to cook and eat your delicata sooner! It has a sweet, rich, yellow flesh and is said to taste like chestnuts, corn, and sweet potatoes.
Kabocha (Green or Red)
Kabocha squash can be dark green with gray mottling, or deep, red-orange, resembling Red Kuri squash. You can identify Kabocha by its flat bottom and top. The flesh is a vibrant yellow, with a smooth and dense texture. They are similar in sweetness to a sweet potato. In Japan, around the time of the winter solstice, a sweet soup is made containing Kabocha squash and adzuki beans. This soup is believed to help boost the immune system and help prevent colds during the winter months. It is delicious roasted on its own, combined with other root vegetables, or battered and fried tempura style or used in sushi. When cooked thoroughly, the skin is edible.
Mashed Potato Squash
As you can tell by its shape, the Mashed Potato squash is a type of Acorn squash, but white or sometimes tan. The unusual white skin makes it a nice decoration for the fall season until you’re ready to eat it. It makes a great low-calorie, low-carb, high fiber substitute for potatoes. When cooked, the Mashed Potato squash has a very similar taste, texture, and appearance to baked potatoes!
North Georgia Candy Roaster
A rare heirloom variety, the North Georgia Candy Roaster has a striking appearance with an large, oblong shape with pointed ends and a creamy orange color. It was originally cultivated by the Cherokee in the Appalachian Mountains of the Southeastern U.S. Many winter squash varieties, including this one, continue to be cultivated because of seeds saved by Native Americans. With its unusual shape, the North Georgia Candy Roaster may be intimidating, but can be prepared similarly to other winter squash. Cut lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and roast with the skin on and then discard the skin once cooked.
The word “kuri” translates from Japanese to mean chestnut, which is the main flavor profile of Kuri squash. Red Kuri has a similar appearance to the Red Kabocha, but Kuri has a more teardrop shape whereas Kabocha will be flat on the top and bottom. As the name suggests, Red Kuri has a beautiful bright red color on the outside and rich orange on the inside. The ridging on the skin makes it difficult to peel, so it may be easier to cook the squash with the skin on and then scoop out the flesh. It has a mild sweetness and drier texture, so would be delicious mixed in a soup.
Spaghetti Squash is pretty recognizable due to its bright yellow color and oblong, round shape. It almost looks like it could be a melon variety! It is popular due to its unique flesh that resembles angel hair pasta when cooked, and can be used as a low carb, low calorie alternative to noodles. When cooked, spaghetti squash has a mild flavor and will absorb the taste of accompanying recipe elements. To use as ‘pasta,’ Wholefully.com recommends salting the cut squash and letting it sit out for 15-20 minutes to draw out excess moisture and avoid mushy noodles (recipe below).
Winter Squash Storage
If stored properly, winter squash (especially thicker-skinned varieties) can last for up to months without refrigeration. Winter squash should be stored in a cool, dark place around 50°F. This could be a cool and dark shelf, cabinet, or drawer in the kitchen, pantry, or closet. Once cut or cooked, store squash in an airtight container in the refrigerator and consume within 7 days.
Instead of throwing away the seeds from your winter squash, you can eat them! All winter squash seeds are edible and have nutritional value. The Spruce Eats recommends removing the seeds from the pulp (they don’t have to be totally clean- any extra pulp will add flavor) and roasting them in the toaster oven, skillet, or the microwave.