From the moment the calendar turns to September, we start seeing pumpkins everywhere. Pumpkins are in our cakes, our pies, our pasta, and of course, in our coffee. But pumpkins aren’t the only winter squash out there. Yes, there’s butternut squash – who doesn’t love that one? In fact, butternut squash is my favorite of all the winter squashes, but there are even more types! Winter squashes are healthy, delicious, and versatile so let’s step outside our usual squash box and try cooking with something new. Make it a challenge this winter to try new types of winter squash. Here’s a quick guide to winter squash beyond the beloved pumpkin and butternut squash.
1. Winter Squash 101
Squash are members of the gourd family, technically called the Cucurbitaceae family. We are probably familiar with the summer varieties of zucchini, yellow summer squash, and patty pan squash. Winter squash are pretty different than summer squash. Each type has its own shape, color, size, and flavor. They all have really thick skins that need to be cooked before you can eat them, dense sweet flesh, and a hollow cavity filled with seeds that you can cook and enjoy, just like pumpkin seeds.
2. Selection and Storage
Winter squash are available all year round but their peak season is early fall to early winter. When buying squash, choose those that have dull-colored skin, firm shells, and feel heavy. Shiny skin indicates the squash is unripe. Avoid damaged squash with cracked or cut skins. Some varieties of winter squash seem like you can store them forever, but be sure to keep them in a cool, dark place or they will go bad. Try not to cut into them until you’re ready to cook them as the stem helps keep the moisture in. Once the squash is cut, wrap it in plastic and keep it in the fridge for only a few days. Cooked squash can be kept for a few days in the fridge. For longer storage, you can freeze cut squash.
3. Health Benefits
Winter squash offers a multitude of health benefits. They are low in sodium and calories and a great source of fiber. They also offer significant amounts of vitamins C, E, B6, thiamin, niacin, folate, and pantothenic acid. Winter squash are also good sources of calcium, iron, copper, manganese, potassium, and magnesium. Winter squash are also filled with important antioxidants known as carotenoids. Studies have shown winter squash is beneficial to our immune systems, management of diabetes symptoms, fighting inflammation, and to our cardiovascular health. Isn’t it great when something that is so delicious is also good for us? It’s a win-win!
4. Cooking With Winter Squash
While you could just cook winter squash with a bit of seasoning and eat it, there are so many other ways to cook with it. Winter squash have a natural sweetness so they work in both sweet and savory dishes. Seasonings and flavors that work well with squash include cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, paprika, cayenne pepper, chili powder, brown sugar, and maple syrup. Squash can be stuffed with delicious fillings, like this Moroccan Pilaf Stuffed Squash. They can replace potatoes in dishes and they can be added to soups, stews, curries, stir-fries, and more. For more ideas, see 10 Ways to Cook Comforting Fall Foods With Winter Squash and Don’t Let Pumpkin and Butternut Steal the Spotlight! 15 Savory Recipes Made With Winter Squash. Winter squash can also be used in desserts and just 1/4 cup of purée can replace one egg and oil in baking. Learn more in How to Cook and Bake Without Eggs and Veggies for Dessert? You Bet! How to Use Vegetables to Make Sweet Desserts.
5. Types of Winter Squash
Now that we know that winter squash is healthy and delicious, let’s look at some of the many types we can cook with.
Acorn squash does, in fact, look like an acorn. It is about six inches long and can be found in a variety of colors including dark green, white and yellow-gold. The one we see most is dark green on the outside with orange flesh. Acorn squash is sweet and nutty. They can be baked and eaten as is (including the skin) like this Baked Acorn Squash With Nut-Free Spinach Pesto or these Acorn Squash Rings With Walnuts and Dried Apricots. Make soup like this Moroccan Roasted Acorn Squash Soup or stuff them with yummy fillings including grains, veggies, and vegan sausage. Recipes you need to try include this Roasted Acorn Squash Stuffed With Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf, Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash, and this Asian Pear and Persimmon Stuffed Acorn Squash.
Buttercup squash are as cute as their name. They are short, round and green and weight about 5 pounds. These squash have a protruding ring around the flower end. They have a thick rind and dark orange-yellow flesh (like buttercup flowers) that is dense and creamy. The flavor is sweet and nutty. Buttercup squash can be stuffed, baked or used in recipes, both sweet like these Buttercup Squash Spice Cakes and savory like this Buttercup Squash and Lentil Curry.
Butternut squash is probably one of the most recognizable winter squashes with its long, pear-like shape and is certainly, a favorite. Butternut squash has orange flesh that gets creamy when cooked. You can use butternut squash in a gazillion recipes, both sweet and savory. You can stuff them like this Chickpea and Mushroom Stuffed Butternut Squash, put them in a baked dish like this Butternut Squash, Potato, and Kale Casserole, put them in burgers like these Red Lentil and Butternut Squash Burgers, or make Scalloped Butternut Squash. These squash make sweet and creamy soups like this Creamy Turmeric Butternut Squash Soup and this Red Pear and Butternut Squash Soup.
Want to get creative? Get our your spiralizer and make these Spiralized Butternut Squash Noodles With Asparagus, Cashews, and Pomegranate. Use squash to make a cheesy sauce like this Cheesy Butternut Squash Alfredo and this Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese Casserole. This squash is also perfect in desserts like this Butternut Squash Apple Pie and this Butternut Squash Swirl Pie. Get more creative ideas in 15 Unique Ways to Use Butternut Squash This Fall.
Carnival squash are small, heavy squash that are easily recognizable by their hard speckled green and orange skin. The orange flesh is somewhat stringy and has a mellow, sweet flavor that is more like sweet potatoes than other squashes. These squash can be baked, steamed, or puréed.
While carnival squashes can be treated like any other orange-fleshed squash, they are best when roasted to help strengthen their flavor. Round and hard skinned, the inner, somewhat stringy flesh has a mellow, but sweet flavor similar to sweet potatoes. This squash can be baked, puréed, or steamed to be served as a side dish seasoned with butter and herbs, used as a base for soups and stews or stuffed like this Stuffed Sage Carnival Squash.
Delicata squash are long and thin with green or orange stripes running down the yellow skin. Their flesh is creamy with a mild flavor similar to sweet potatoes. Try them in this Delicata Squash Stew With Chickpeas and Quinoa. They also hold their shape well, so they’re really good for stuffing or for cutting into pretty flower-shaped rings like these Sautéed Delicata Squash Rings and in this Autumn Mushroom and Squash Paella.
Hubbard squash may not be very pretty to look at with their bumpy skins and dark colors but their yellow flesh is rich in flavor. These squash taste best when baked or boiled and have a little sweetener added. Use this squash in soups or in desserts, like this Hubbard Squash Pie.
Kabocha squash, also known as Japanese pumpkin, is a short green squash with striped green skin. It has a rich, sweet flavor and a tender texture when cooked. It can be baked, steamed, or used in any recipe that calls for pumpkin or sweet potatoes. Recipes with kabocha you’ll want to try include this Kabocha With Maple Butter Glaze and Fried Sage, Kabocha Squash Stuffed With Black Rice, Kale and Wakame, Sake-Stewed Miso Kabocha Squash, and these Kabocha Croquettes. The creamy consistency of this squash makes it perfect for making Creamy Kabocha Butter and this Cheesy Kabocha Squash Pizza Sauce.
Everyone knows about pumpkins! These are the highly recognizable winter squash with orange skin and orange flesh. However, there are many types of pumpkins and some are better for cooking and baking than others. The sweet flesh can be used in both sweet recipes like this Simple and Healthy Pumpkin Pecan Pie, No-Bake Mini Pumpkin Tart, Pumpkin Spice Latte Ice Cream and savory ones like this Overloaded Pumpkin Burger Sandwich, Pumpkin and Almond Parmesan Pasta and these Roasted Pumpkin and Mushroom Quesadillas With Ancho Chili Cream. You know we have lots more pumpkin recipes for you. Check out 10 Ways to Cook with Pumpkin Flesh and Seeds, How to Cook With Pumpkins to Make Delicious Vegan Dishes From Breakfast to Dinner, and These 15 Ultimate Pumpkin Recipes are the Only Ones You Need to Celebrate National Pumpkin Day.
Red Kuri Squash
Red kuri squash, also known as orange Hokkaido or uchiki kuri squash, is a thick-skinned orange-colored squash that kind of looks like a pumpkin. Inside the hard skin is a firm flesh that has a delicate, mellow flavor that is similar to chestnuts. Kuri squash can be baked, puréed, steamed, or stuffed like this Coconut Quinoa Stuffed Kuri Squash. It can also be used as the base for soups and sauces like this Smoky Red Kuri Pasta Sauce With Sage and this Red Kuri Squash Soup With Cumin.
Spaghetti squash looks more like a melon than a winter squash. It’s large, oval, and yellow. It gets its name from the fact that the mildly-flavored flesh becomes stringy when cooked and resembles pasta. In fact, many people use spaghetti squash as a gluten-free, lower calorie option to pasta. Try it yourself in this Spaghetti Squash With Basil and Creamy Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce, Black Bean and Spaghetti Squash Casserole, Miso Sesame Spaghetti Squash, and this Fire-Roasted Tomato Basil Spaghetti Squash Bake. You can also stuff it as in this Curried Chickpeas Stuffed Spaghetti Squash.
Pumpkin and butternut squash are healthy and delicious, but there are so many other types of winter squash available. Make it a personal challenge this winter to try a few different types of winter squash. You may just discover a new favorite.
Lead image source: Moroccan Pilaf Stuffed Squash