Guide to Winter Squash Varieties
Winter squash is one term that covers a variety of specimen belonging to the winter squash family. They come in many shapes and sizes but what they have in common is a thicker shell and meaty interior. All of them have large seeds nestled in their interior and these seeds, when toasted and lightly salted, can be a flavourful addition to salads and other food.
When choosing winter squash look for a firm exterior that has a slight sheen. Notice the weight as well: heavier weight indicates that the squash is full of moisture. Once in your kitchen, winter squash does not require refrigeration and would last much longer than other seasonal vegetables. Leave it in a cool spot on the counter where it can look around and contemplate in peace.
One of my favourites is Butternut Squash, an elongated winter vegetable with medium-hard, tan coloured skin and firm orange interior. It is one of the easier squashes to peel because the skin is not rock hard. Butternut squash has an elongated neck with a bulb at the end. The neck is solid inside and the bulb has the hollowed centre containing the seeds. I try to buy the ones with a long neck, as it is easier to cut into rounds or cubes and use the bulb portion for soups and risotto. Butternut squash is versatile and adapts well to many food preparations, from soups and risottos to roasting and mashing. I like combining equal amounts of cubed butternut squash and sweet potatoes, toss them with a bit of olive oil and roast in a 400℉ oven until tender and slightly caramelized. Leftovers can be cooked with some stock and made into a soup, elegantly finished with a touch of cream.
Recipe: Roasted butternut squash
Acorn squash gets its name from it round acorn-like shape. It comes in dark green or orange colours has a sweet flesh, delicious when cut in half, dotted with butter, sprinkled with brown sugar and baked to soft perfection in the oven. I also like to stuff a baked Acorn squash with a pilaff style mixture of grains. Beautiful, delicious and nutritious. What more can you ask for.
Spaghetti squash is an often neglected but fun variety. Buy the ones that are larger and deeply coloured as they indicate ripeness and have more flavour. I tend to cook it in the microwave, cut in half and set cut side down in a pan with a bit of water to create steam. When done I scrape the flesh with a fork and get a lovely mound of buttery strands that I toss with a bit of butter and salt or sometimes some cumin or another sweet spice. Delicious. Also great baked in the oven, that brings out the natural sweetness even more.
Pumpkin is also a winter squash and comes in several varieties, including a white pumpkin with a surprisingly delicious interior. We are used to them in the festive pumpkin pie but try them in a soup with a touch of cream and sweet spices. It’s a wonderful winter treat. Add it to muffins, waffles, pancakes and risottos.
Delicata squash is a real treat, an heirloom squash variety introduced into the markets not that long ago. True to its name it is delicate specimen and even the skin can be eaten when roasted. It has a creamy flesh and I like to roast it and drizzle with pair lemon butter or light brown sugar sauce.
Recipe: Roasted delicata squash
Sweet dumpling squash: Smaller and pretty variety with green and cream coloured skin and orange flesh. I usually cut it in half or slice off the top and roast it almost whole, and let the interior be scooped out individually.
Buttercup squash is the one with the dark green exterior and round shape. It has a sweet bright orange interior and it lends itself to roasting, baking, steaming or mashing. The interior is sweet in the sweet potato style.
Turban squash: named that way because of it shape this squash comes in different bright colours and a nutty flavoured golden interiors. You can bake and mash the interior with a little butter and brown sugar.
Ambercup Squash looks like pumpkins but is a smaller variety with similar bright orange exterior. The inside colour is also orange, much like sweet potatoes, and can be cooks the same as sweet potatoes, cubed, mashed etc, with a little butter, cream and brown sugar.
Hubbard squash: larger and thick-skinned this one is a hardy variety that keeps for a long time in your kitchen. It’s best baked and mashed because sometimes the flesh can end up having a mealy, flaky texture.
This is not an exhaustive list. There are other squashes on the market and the best way to learn about them is one by one. Bring one home from the market, do your research and then cook it in a couple of different way to see how you like it. I assure you it will be a rewarding undertaking.