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Winter Squash 101: Acorn, Kabocha and Butternut Squash

Winter Squash 101: Acorn, Kabocha and Butternut Squash

Winter squash makes eating seasonally so simple and delicious!

Ok, so they’re kind of big and heavy and clunky. Some of them even have a tough, almost warty-looking skin.

It’s true, winter squash can be a bit intimidating to the uninitiated. But the payoff of learning how to prepare these seasonal beauties is well worth the investment!

Beneath their tough exterior, winter squash are filled with a sweet, tender, and super nutritious flesh. Although pretty much any type of squash can be prepared any way you like, each variety has a unique flavor that is best suited to certain uses.

The guide below will walk you through cutting, cooking, and preparing three of our fall favorites – acorn, kabocha, and butternut squash.

acorn squash

Acorn squash has a smooth, dark green exterior with longitudinal ridges and a sweet, yellow-orange flesh. It derives its name from its distinctive acorn shape. This hardy winter squash can be stored throughout the fall and winter, and will save for several months in a cool, dry location.

Cut It: Acorn squash is one of the smaller and softer varieties of winter squash, so cutting it isn’t too much of a challenge. Thoroughly wash and dry the exterior of the squash, then place it on a cutting board and get out a large, sturdy knife. For most preparations, it’s most useful to cut the squash right down the center (through the stem). Simply slice through the middle, scoop out the seeds with a spoon or melon baller, and move on to the next step!

Cook It: Acorn squash comes out best oven-roasted. Here are 2 methods:

  1. Place the squash face-down in a shallow baking dish with about ¼ inch of water. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes or until the skin is easily pierced with a fork. After baking, you can fill the center with a stuffing or salad mix, top with cinnamon and agave, or scoop out and mash/puree the innards for use in soups and baking.
  2. Chop the squash into bite-size pieces (no need to peel, the skin softens beautifully in the oven). Toss with olive oil, sea salt, and desired seasonings (cinnamon works well for a sweet dish, or garlic for a savory option). Spread in a single layer on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes, or until browned, flipping halfway through.

Eat It: Stuffed acorn squash is one dish that’s sure to impress! Its classic acorn shape and seed cavity make it perfect for stuffing. Acorn squash is also delicious blended into soups, or roasted in chunks, as described above. Here are 3 great recipes to try this fall:

  1. Roasted Acorn Squash Stuffed With Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf
  2. Stuffed Acorn Squash with Wheat Berries, Pine Nuts & Sage
  3. Acorn Squash Apple Soup

kabocha squash

Kabocha is a Japanese variety of winter squash with a hard, knobby, dark green skin. It has an exceptionally sweet, yellow-orange flesh often likened to a pumpkin or sweet potato. Kabochas can be stored for several months in a cool, dry location.

Cut It: There’s no denying it, kabocha squash is tough to cut. But it is SO worth it! Thoroughly wash and dry the exterior of the squash, then place it on a cutting board and get out a large, sturdy knife.

If you plan to roast it in halves, cut the squash right down the center (through the stem). Rock the knife back and forth to work your way though the middle of the squash if needed. After halving, scoop out the seeds with a spoon or melon baller, and move on to the next step!

If you plan to roast it in chunks, just start whacking off pieces! Cut into bite-size chunks, de-seeding as you go.

Cook It: Kabocha squash comes out best oven-roasted. Here are 2 methods:

  1. Place the squash face-down in a shallow baking dish with about ¼ inch of water. Bake at 400 degrees F for 50 to 60 minutes or until the skin is easily pierced with a fork. After baking, you can fill the center with a stuffing or salad mix, top with cinnamon and agave, or scoop out and mash/puree the innards for use in soups and baking.
  2. Chop the squash into bite-size pieces (no need to peel, the skin softens beautifully in the oven). Toss with olive oil, sea salt, and desired seasonings (cinnamon works well for a sweet dish, or garlic for a savory option). Spread in a single layer on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes, or until browned, flipping halfway through.

Eat It: Kabocha is incredibly sweet and delicious just roasted in the oven with a bit of olive oil and sea salt. But it is also amazing in soups, salads, and other fall dishes. Try it in the recipe below!

  1. Wild Rice with Kabocha Squash and Sage Butter

Butternut Squash

Butternut squash has an oblong shape, a tannish-colored skin, and an orange fleshy pulp. Its taste is often described as sweet, nutty, and similar to that of a pumpkin.

Cut It: Butternut doesn’t have an especially tough skin, but they can be large and a bit awkward to cut. Thoroughly wash and dry the exterior of the squash, then place it on a cutting board and get out a large, sturdy knife.

If you plan to roast it in halves, cut the squash right down the center (through the stem). Rock the knife back and forth to work your way though the middle of the squash if needed. After halving, scoop out the seeds with a spoon or melon baller, and move on to the next step!

If you plan to roast it in chunks, peel off the skin with a vegetable peeler, then slice the squash into discs. Cut the discs into bite-size chunks, de-seeding as you go.

Cook It: Butternut squash comes out best oven-roasted. Here are 2 methods:

  1. Place the squash face-down in a shallow baking dish with about ¼ inch of water. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 45 minutes or until the skin is easily pierced with a fork. After baking, you can fill the center with a stuffing or salad mix, top with cinnamon and agave, or scoop out and mash/puree the innards for use in soups and baking.
  2. Peel the squash and cut into bite-size pieces. Toss with olive oil, sea salt, and desired seasonings (cinnamon works well for a sweet dish, or garlic for a savory option). Spread in a single layer on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes, or until browned and caramelized, flipping halfway through.

Eat It: Butternut is by far the most popular winter squash, and for good reason! Its sweet, delicious flesh lends itself well to soups, sauces, mashing, roasting and baking. Here are 6 of our favorite ways to use this fall favorite:

  1. Spicy Butternut Squash Pie
  2. Creamy Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
  3. Roasted Butternut Squash in Yellow Coconut Curry Sauce
  4. Rigatoni with Roasted Garlic Butternut Squash Sauce
  5. Fregula with Butternut Squash and Sage
  6. Quinoa-Stuffed Butternut Squash

Got a delicious winter squash recipe? Share it with us!

Image Credit (top): cdn-pix/Flickr

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One comment on “Winter Squash 101: Acorn, Kabocha and Butternut Squash”

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Debby Sunshine
2 Years Ago

Thank you for this most useful post! I sometimes shy away from preparing squash because I'm not sure how to cut, peel or prepare them! Now I know how!


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