A guide to the most popular Types of Winter Squash! Including varieties, preparations, and recipes. With cooler temperatures on the way, let’s learn some more about these versatile and often underrated vegetables!
Winter Squash Basics
We hear the words winter squash and each of us pictures something different. The truth is that it’s a broad designation, made up of many different shapes, colors, patterns, and tastes.
What we know as winter squash can be pretty much anything in the gourd family, also known by its Latin name Cucurbita. Native to the Andes and Mesoamerica, this genus of herbaceous vines are hearty and relatively easy to grow, making them a staple on farms and in home gardens throughout the world.
According to the Modern Farmer, there are three major species you should know:
- Cucurbita Maxima is the most diverse of the domesticated squash species, containing Hubbard, Kabocha, and Turban squash. Generally bigger than the rest, it is also home to the giant pumpkins we see at state fairs, and can weigh well over 1,000 pounds!
- Cucurbita Pepo is lighter and more delicate. It is the family of Zucchini, Delicata, Spaghetti, and the normal-sized pumpkins we carve and celebrate around Halloween. Decorative, ornamental gourds are also a member of this group.
- Cucurbita Moschata is the sweetest and most tropical of the bunch, far more tolerant of heat and humidity. It is the family of the famous Butternut Squash, as well as Tromboncino and Calabaza squash varieties. The pumpkin pie we enjoy at Thanksgiving comes from gourds of this family.
The two lesser-known species are Cucurbita Argyrosperma and Ficifolia, which contain some unique heirloom squash varieties, but are not cultivated on the same scale as the others.
Another thing to remember is that the genetic profile of summer squash does not differ drastically from the winter varieties. They are simply picked earlier in the season and take on different characteristics in the kitchen as a result.
With up to 30 accepted species falling under the umbrella of Cucurbita, the exact taxonomy of the fruit (yes, it’s a fruit!), is still up for debate.
You can store winter squash safely for nearly two months without having to worry about rot or overripe flesh, so build a collection and take your time!
What’s more important is that you recognize the tastiest and most versatile squash available in your neck of the woods, and know how to best take advantage of their texture and flavor.
Popular Varieties of Winter Squash
We listed some of the heavy hitters of the winter squash family above, but let’s take a closer look at the most popular types and how they perform in the kitchen.
The perfect Butternut squash has a dark, even matte color, and sounds hollow when you tap it. It’s easy to chop up and roast and creates the most subtly sweet soups when pureed. If you want some more ideas, the Butternut is the center of attention on our site when you search for squash recipes.
Delicata squash has an edible skin, so no peeling necessary! It cooks fast, so toss it into the oven alongside carrots, mini potatoes, or whatever root veg you can find. It should all reach a perfect texture around the same time.
Acorn squash should have a forest-green exterior with orange specks. You want to pick the heaviest ones available since they have the most tender and tasty flesh for roasting.
Need something extra sweet? Kabocha squash has tons of natural sugars and tastes like dessert for dinner. A great introduction for any picky kids who need to eat their vegetables.
Everyone’s favorite pasta substitute, the Spaghetti Squash can be cooked in a variety of ways, including baking, boiling, steaming, or microwaving. Once cooked, the flesh falls away from the skin into tender strands, or ribbons, resembling spaghetti noodles.
With a lumpy, grey exterior, it may not be the most attractive of the bunch, but Hubbard squash packs a ton of earthy, nutty flavor and lays down the perfect base for layering spices. Try it out with miso paste for an amazing soup!
Don’t toss that Jack-O-Lantern just yet, because Sugar pumpkins can be chopped up and roasted just like the rest. Try it out in soups or make your own homemade pie filling!
Common Prep Methods
With so many winter squash types out there, you may think that you need to prepare each type in a specific way, taking into account shape, size, consistency, etc.
The truth is that most of these gourds behave the same way when it comes time to cook, and you should stick to basic preparations to unlock the most flavor and fun.
Once you have the fundamentals locked in, you can start getting fancier with more advanced recipes.
Here are the most important aspects of winter squash prep and cooking:
- CUTTING: Once your squash is back home and on the cutting board, give it a chop the “long way” and use a spoon (or your hands) to remove any seeds and strings from the middle. There will be different amounts of this goo depending on the variety.
- CHOPPING: It’s up to you whether or not you want to peel the squash, and you can chop it up into cubes, slices, or long strips. Just don’t make the pieces too big, because they may not cook evenly in the oven. Too small, and you won’t get that toothy texture. Somewhere in the middle is ideal!
- ROASTING: Crank that oven up to over 400 degrees and give your squash a nice gloss of olive oil with a brush, or toss in a bowl with some seasoning if you have smaller pieces. A good 30-45 minutes of roasting (with occasional turning) should work fine.
- BAKING: Usually better for smaller and more delicate squash, you simply set the oven temp to 350 degrees and cook for a bit longer, usually around an hour.
- BOILING: Not the most exciting way to make squash, but will give you the ideal material to make soups and complex baked creations. Boil water first, add the squash, bring it down to medium heat and stir until you get the perfect texture.
- PUREEING: Use a blender (tabletop or immersion) to puree boiled or baked squash to the ideal consistency. A bit of extra butter goes a long way to add creaminess, and be sure to season accordingly!
- SAUTEING: Tossing squash chunks on a stovetop pan can add a delightful sear to the exterior of your pieces. Throw in other vegetables and some protein for a complete meal reminiscent of stir fry.
- INSTANT POT: Fill your slow cooker with chunks of squash and let it work all afternoon. You’ll have the most tender, succulent squash ever, without a ton of work.
- SPAGHETTI: You can harvest delicious “noodles” from the interior of the spaghetti squash and serve it up as a regular pasta dish. It’s labor-intensive, but the whole family will love this healthy, gluten-free alternative.
So, now you know the main types of winter squash and can break down any crazy-shaped gourd with acuity! Now it’s time to step it up with some awesome recipes that utilize this delectable fruit.
Start off simple with a 5-Ingredient Roasted Squash recipe, and see how you like it!
From there, you can up the difficulty level by trying out a Butternut Squash Lasagna, which is well worth the extra prep time.
If you need a good noodle replacement recipe, this cheesy twice-baked spaghetti squash is sure to satisfy.
When you’re ready to take on soup, we can’t recommend this miso coconut squash soup strongly enough.
Remember, you can swap out different squash types for each of these recipes, or even combine a few varieties at once for exciting new flavors.
When summer rolls around again, don’t let the sun go down on squash! You will have access to a whole range of new varieties to experiment with, and here are 30 beautiful recipes we aggregated from the web to keep you inspired.
There truly is no other ingredient like winter squash in terms of raw versatility and variety.
Whether you roast up hearty chunks with a pinch of salt and pepper, create rich, creamy soups, or turn it into a healthy pasta alternative, the options are limitless!
We’re always pumping out new recipes that feature all types of winter squash, so be sure to sign up for the Forked Spoon newsletter and get the latest updates delivered directly to your inbox!
Until then, enjoy those cold and cozy winter months to the fullest, with your favorite squash to keep you warm.
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