Winter squash is a culinary workhorse, cheering up winter months with bright soups, curries, gratins, mashes, risottos, roasts and even pies.
Other than raw, winter squashes can be prepared and served any way you can imagine. Named for its season of harvest, most winter squashes belong to the same family as their summery cousins, distinguished only by a sturdier skin and woodier seed. Increasingly, heirloom varieties of squash are coloring market shelves. Riotous yellows, oranges, greens, grey blues and all shades of white speckle the skins of heirloom squashes. From the sweet potato sized Delicata to those requiring a bit more culinary commitment like the Hubbard (turban squash) that can grow to weigh up to 50 pounds, each squash has a slightly different flavor and texture. Enthusiasts may have a favorite variety for each recipe but they all share the same general flavor profile: sweet, nutty and slightly meaty.
Popular varieties of winter squash include:
Acorn: Dark green (edible!) skin conceals its yellow-orange flesh. Acorn squashes are round and ribbed, and often have an orange patch on their skins. The flesh is sweet and slightly fibrous.
Butternut: Large and pear shaped with a thick, creamy skin, the butternut has a mild sweet flavor and smooth flesh making it an ideal squash for cooking, roasting or baking.
Buttercup: These squash have a hard green skin; they are round and often quite misshapen. Buttercup is sweeter than most other winter squash varieties.
Delicata: This variety is actually an heirloom cultivar that has only been reintroduced to popular consumption recently. Delicata squash is creamy, earthy and sweet, with a tender gold and green striped skin.
Spaghetti: These squash are mildly sweet and nutty. Spaghetti squash gets its name from its texture once cooked: the flesh separates into spaghetti-like strands.
Select heavy, unblemished squashes and store in a well ventilated, cool space. Once cut or peeled, the flesh should be refrigerated and eaten within a few days. Thick skinned squashes should be peeled with a vegetable peeler or knife before cooking or halved, roasted and scooped away from the skin. The uncooked flesh can be quite dense, so peeling can require a steady, determined hand. Seeds can be roasted and seasoned for a tasty snack.