A Handy Guide to Fall and Winter Squash
When I was growing up, autumn squashes were limited to pumpkins for carving, pumpkins for pie, and the occasional butternut or acorn. There were plenty of inedible decorative gourds around, little colorful and warty things that were ideal for filling a bowl or cornucopia on a holiday sideboard but were definitely not for cooking. You could sometimes find other varietals at farmers markets or if you knew someone with a garden.
Lucky for all of us, the stores have finally picked up on the wide variety of delicious squashes, and now those formerly elusive types can be easy to find. But having been so limited for so long, frequently we don’t really know what we are looking at or how to use it when we spot them in the produce section.
For all squashes, be very careful when prepping, use a very sharp knife to break down. You always want to choose squashes that are heavy for their size, with smooth, unbruised skin and no soft or mushy spots.
There are all sorts of pumpkins available this time of year, but not all are delicious. You want to look for something labeled pie pumpkin or sugar pumpkin. To prepare, you should cut the top off as you would for making a small jack-o-lantern, remove the seeds and stringy guts from the pumpkin. The best way to prepare is to roast in wedges, lightly coated in neutral oil, in a 400-degree oven until soft. Then you can easily remove the skin and slice or cube or mash for your recipe.
This is one of the most common squashes to find, sort of taupe colored with orange flesh, and shaped like an oversized bosc pear, with a bulbous round bottom and a long neck. It is very versatile, great in salads, soups, and side dishes, but hearty enough to make for a wonderful vegetarian entree. The skin is edible when cooked, and it can swap in for pumpkin in any recipe without issue. We have a handy guide to prepping butternut squash.
This dark green and yellow small squash is a great one to know if you are cooking for one or two people or are looking for a squash to stuff. It is shaped like a giant ribbed acorn, hence the name. To prepare, slice in half and scoop out the seeds and stringy guts. Then you can slice or wedge or stuff the halves, and roast. The skin is not edible.
This pale cream or yellow oblong squash gets its name because when cooked, the flesh can be forked into threads that look like spaghetti. It has a mild flavor, so it can be a good option for people who need to manage their carbs but still want that pasta feel. To prep, slice in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Coat in a neutral oil, season with salt and pepper and roast in a 400 degree oven until tender, then use a fork to scrape the flesh out into its shreds. The peel is not edible.
This giant grayish green-blue squash is wonderful for serving a crowd. The orange flesh is similar to pumpkin and they can be used interchangeably. It is particularly good for stuffing for holiday gatherings with things like a bread stuffing recipe or baked rice dish, so that diners can scoop pieces of the cooked squash out when they serve themselves. Prep as you would a pumpkin.
These small squashes are long and ridged and usually a combination of yellow, orange and green. The skin is thin and edible. This is a great squash for salads and appetizers, once the seeds are removed you can slice into pretty rings and roast with simple seasonings. You can also slice in half for stuffing.
This deep red-orange skinned squash is about the size of a small pumpkin, and the flesh is the same color as the skin. Sometimes called Potimarron in the South, it can be used interchangeably with pumpkin. The sweet flesh is slightly firmer, so it is also terrific for heartier dishes like curries or stews, since it will hold its shape. And the color makes for spectacular soups. Prep as you would a pumpkin, the skin is not edible.