Butternut Squash

Our 11 Favorite Winter Squashes (& How to Cook Them)

November 13, 2015

If an alien were to abduct me tomorrow and demand not to be led to my leader but to the strangest piece of produce I know, I would be torn between finding the nearest rambutan and heading to a pumpkin patch.

In the end, I think I would choose the latter. Winter squashes are so bizarre, their outsides hard and sometimes ridged, sometimes freckled, sometimes warty, the insides woven with stringy webs of seeds.

Guts! Photo by James Ransom

M.F.K. Fisher famously wrote that an egg is the most private thing in the world until you crack it open, and the same could be said of squash. (Who knows what's in there?) While many squash taste similarly, it's nearly impossible to predict what the texture of the thing will be like unless you've eaten it before.

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Because the texture of a squash can and should impact how you prepare it, we thought it would be handy to break down some of the most common edible squashes by texture—soft squashes, hard squashes, and those squashes that can only be described as weird but lovable. Here's what to make with each:

Hard Squash

From left to right: Acorn squash, carnival squash, and butternut squash. Photo by Lara Odell

Hard squashes—like pear-shaped butternut and honeynut (a mini, personal-sized version of butternut!) squashes, acorn squashes (aptly named for their shape), and petite, freckly carnival squashes—have very firm flesh that, when cooked, becomes velvety but holds its shape.

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Top Comment:
“And I just bought a pumpkin shaped squash here in in the US last weekend and to my surprise, the insides were just like spaghetti squash! But I also like the term "sunny blimp"--it is perfect for most of the squash you find in the supermarket here. And I saw somewhere else that it is best to cut them in slices across to roast, instead of in long halves, to get the longest spaghetti strands!”
— Amy
Comment

They're very versatile: Cube, slice, or halve them, scoop out the seeds (save them to roast!), slide them into the oven, and eat as-is once the flesh is tender. Carnival squashes are especially good for stuffing because of their diminutive size—just serve everyone one squash.

Hard squashes also make for excellent soups or mashes (which you can then use in baked goods, if you like). Once you scoop out the seeds and get them roasted, you can do just about anything with them.

What to Make:

Soft Squash

From left to right: Hubbard squash, red kuri squash, sugar pumpkin, and delicata squash. Photo by Lara Odell

"Softer" squashes actually still have fairly firm flesh (but it's a lot easier to carve a face into a sugar pumpkin that it would be into a butternut).

These squashes—like the iconic, platonic sugar pumpkin, lumpy, moody-blue Hubbard squashes, long and stripy delicata squashes, and lopsided, teardrop-shaped red kuri squashes—tend to have softer, edible skins and very moist, slightly stringy, and often quite sweet flesh. Purée them for soups or pie fillings, or roast in big slices (delicata is particularly pretty this way).

What to make:

Weird But Lovable Squash

From left to right: Buttercup squash, banana squash, kabocha squash, and spaghetti squash. Photo by Lara Odell

Stout, woody kabocha (some reddish, some green) are very dense and sometimes dry, which makes them good candidates for salads (they benefit from a dressing) or soups; when roasted and cubed, they hold their shape well.

Buttercup squashes, with their turban-like domes, are like sweeter kabocha, with a dense, rich, and rather dry flesh.

Pale pink-orange and huge, banana squash are often sold in pieces; they're finely textured, similar to pumpkins, and are earthy-sweet in flavor, which makes them good for roasting (or pie).

Spaghetti squash has its own rules: They look like sunny blimps, and are very stringy, pale golden inside, and don't behave like other squashes. Roast it in halves, with the seeds scooped out, before "shredding" it into spaghetti-like strands.

What to Make:

Illustrations by Lara Odell

What do you look forward to making with winter squash all year? Give us a not-recipe version in the comments.

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7 Comments

connie M. October 5, 2016
Although the calendar says October. It is still 90 degrees here in Florida. Nonetheless, it is sill fall to me and that means squash. Even my husband asked about my velvety, silky butternut soup. The other squash I wait for is buttercup, my favorite since childhood. Cut it in half, clean it, put butter and brown sugar in the "well" and bake. Sweet! A couple of squash I'm not fond of: can't get past the texture of spaghetti, or the blandness of acorn.
 
Smaug November 13, 2015
Great thing about Kabocha squash is that the skin is not only edible, but quite good- no need to peel them. I am told that the word "Kabocha" is Japanese for squash.
 
Amy November 13, 2015
Um, not all spaghetti squash is yellow on the outside. I found that out when I lived in Germany for a few years. For the longest time, I thought they were non-existent until I saw a big basket of a bunch of different varieties of squash and spaghetti was listed. By process of elimination, I figured out that the sort of green-yellow-orange variegated striped squash were spaghetti squash! And I just bought a pumpkin shaped squash here in in the US last weekend and to my surprise, the insides were just like spaghetti squash! But I also like the term "sunny blimp"--it is perfect for most of the squash you find in the supermarket here.<br /><br />And I saw somewhere else that it is best to cut them in slices across to roast, instead of in long halves, to get the longest spaghetti strands!
 
Olivia B. November 13, 2015
"Sunny Blimps" is my new band name.
 
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Caroline L. November 13, 2015
can i be your roadie?
 
Panfusine November 13, 2015
with the pumpkin flesh, a favorite is stewing cubed pumpkin with a sauce of cumin, coocnut, chilies and curry leaves. I look forward to the stringy innards as much (especially from pumpkins like the blue Jarrahdale, where the center isn't stringy, but rather dense) , saute them with onion, chana dal & spices and blend into a hummus like dip/chutney.
 
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Caroline L. November 13, 2015
this sounds so delicious!