The name Squash is derived from a Native American term for raw or uncooked vegetables. But it is actually a fruit, it comes from a flower and has seeds.
Winter squash are harvested in late summer through fall, then “cured” or “hardened off” in open air to toughen their exterior. This process ensures the squash will keep for months without refrigeration. When selecting any variety of winter squash, the stem is the best indication of ripeness. Stems should be tan, dry, and on some varieties, look fibrous and frayed, or corky. Fresh green stems and those leaking sap signal that the squash was harvested before it was ready. Ripe squash should have vivid, saturated (deep) color and matte, rather than glossy, finish.
There are many reasons to love winter squash, including its health benefits. Squash is packed with antioxidants and fiber They also have a long shelf life and best of all, it is versatile.
The most common types of winter squash
Acorn: This forest green, deeply ribbed squash resembles its namesake, the acorn. It has yellow-orange flesh and a tender-firm texture that holds up when cooked. Acorn’s mild flavor is versatile, making it a traditional choice for stuffing and baking.
Butternut: These squash are named for their smooth, beige coloring and peanut-like shape. Butternut is a good choice for recipes calling for a large amount of squash because they are dense, the seed cavity is in the small bulb opposite the stem end, so the large stem is solid squash. Their vivid orange flesh is sweet and slightly nutty with a smooth texture that falls apart as it cooks. The easiest way to prepare butternut squash is to cut it into two sections, the slim neck and the bulbous, bell-shaped bottom, and handle each separately. Butternut is also good for pureeing into soups like Chipotle Butternut Squash Soup.
Delicata: This oblong squash is butter yellow in color with green mottled striping in shallow ridges. Delicata has a thin, edible skin that is easy to work with but makes it a poor squash for long-term storage, this is why you’ll only find them in the fall. The rich, sweet yellow flesh is flavorful and tastes like chestnuts, corn, and sweet potatoes. Delicata’s walls are thin, making it a quick-cooking squash. It can be sliced in 1/4-inch rings and sautéed until soft and caramelized. It can be halved and baked in 30 minutes, or broiled with olive oil or butter until caramelized.
Heart of gold/Festival/Carnival: These colorful, festive varieties of squash are all hybrid resulting from cross between sweet dumpling and acorn, and are somewhere in between the two in size. Yellow or cream with green and orange mottling, these three can be difficult to tell apart, but for culinary purposes, they are essentially interchangeable. With a sweet nutty flavor like dumpling, and a tender- firm texture like acorn, they are the best of both parent varieties. They’re good for baking, stuffing, and broiled with brown sugar.
Kabocha: Kabocha can be dark green with mottled blue-gray striping, or a deep red-orange color that resembles red curry by their shape. Kabocha is round but flattened at the stem end, instead of pointed. The flesh is smooth, dense, and intensely yellow. It is similar to a sweet potato in sweetness and texture. It is best used for curries, soups, stir-fry, and salad.
Spaghetti: These football-sized, bright yellow squash are very different from other varieties in this family. Spaghetti squash has a pale golden interior and is stringy and dense. After sliced in half and baked, use a folk to pry up the strands of flesh and you will see it resembles and has the texture of perfectly cooked spaghetti noodles. These squash are not particularly sweet but have a mild flavor that takes to a wild variety of preparations. It’s best baked and separated, then mix with pesto, tomato sauce, or your favorite pasta topping.
Sweet Dumpling: These small, four-to-six-inch round squash are cream-colored with green mottled streaks and deep ribs similar to acorn. Pale gold on the inside, with a dry, starchy flesh similar to a potato, these squash are renowned for their rich, honey-sweet flavor. It’s best baked with butter and cinnamon.