I can always tell when fall is coming. Not because of the weather, or I guess I should say not only because of the weather, but also because of my taste buds. My buds change with the weather. My taste buds crave what the crave, and those cravings appear to come in seasonal cycles.
But I already told you that.
In the summertime, I cannot get enough cucumbers and tomatoes and salad, but come fall and winter, I am ALL about the winter squash.
What happens when you send a girl with a growing desire for winter squash to the farm where they sell all varieties for SIXTY-FIVE cents a POUND!?
Said girl buys 70 pounds of winter squash, that’s what.
I….er, I mean, she…didn’t buy any spaghetti or acorn or butternut squash either, because those are the banal squashes that I (um, she) can get all winter long, wherever I (she…oh who am I kidding?) want them. These little babies are the extra-special, hard to find varieties.
This picture is 3 years old. Back when my love of winter squash was in its infancy. Look at that face – pure bliss at having found my kabocha squash at a grocery store in Minneapolis. I still remember that day. (And I still love those jeans.)
Surprised? Don’t be. I eat a roasted winter squash for breakfast nearly every day. Yes, a whole one. Sometimes two if they are small.
Obviously, I fancy myself a bit of a squash connoisseur. As per the connoisseur code (that I totally made up right now), I must spread my knowledge far and wide. And by ‘far and wide’ I mean to the 10 people who read this blog.
Knowledge with a side of humor, naturally.
You know me. I have opinions and when I have an opinion, I make sure people know it. I have opinions about which winter squash taste the best, about which are best for baking, about the best methods of cooking each, and even about which are over (or under) appreciated in the culinary world.
And I need to share these opinions now, before the end of squash season, so that you can still make use of your newfound knowledge.
So, without further ado, I present to you, Katie’s Definitive Guide to Winter Squash.
Note: these are presented in no particular order. Or rather, they are presented according to the numbers on the graphic above, made by someone else.
1. Kabocha Squash: Hands-down, my favorite squash. It’s slightly dry and flakey when cooked, and sweet without tasting at all pumpkin-y. It can be steamed, roasted whole, roasted in slices, stir fried, pureed, etc. I have yet to find a cooking method I don’t like (stay tuned for a recipe round-up), but I usually roast them whole, for about 40 minutes at 400 degrees. It steams itself from the inside and the outer, edible skin peels off in large, chip-sized pieces that are just…heaven.
It’s also great sliced and dry roasted (or just lightly sprayed with oil) in 1/4 inch thick slices. I like mine a *little* crispy, and dipped in mustard. Obviously.
2. Butternut: Easiest to find, common in most grocery stores. Very wet flesh that isn’t super sweet. I think this is best roasted whole and then pureed for soups. You can really roast the crap out of it, and the more charred the skin is, the better the flesh tastes, and the easier it is to peel. You can technically eat the skin, but it is thin and gross, so…why?
I tend to go Thai or Asian spiced with my butternut squash soup. You can add coconut milk, but if you have a good blender, the butternut is creamy enough that you don’t need anything to give it that creamy texture.
3. Golden nugget: This is my least favorite. Tends to be wet and very mild flavored, if not overtly flavorless. AVOID.
4. Sweet dumpling: This is a new favorite this year. A very creamy, lighter fleshed squash with a sweet, tender flavor and texture that kind of melts in your mouth. Best roasted and eaten plain with a little salt.
5. Pumpkin. Unless you live under a rock, you know what this is. Stone me if you will, but I don’t really like pumpkin. No, not even in pie form.
6. Carnival Squash: This guy looks a lot like the sweet dumpling squash, but is orange with a green “butt” that kind of tastes like a less-watery butternut. It’s pretty mellow in flavor and the skin isn’t edible, so I like these best steamed. The flesh tends to be thicker on the blossom end also, so they don’t evenly in whole form.
I steam a few at a time and store them in the fridge. They make great smoothies with a little bit of cinnamon, some vanilla, and almond milk.
7. Spaghetti Squash: The outlier of the group, this is a stringy squash that, contrary to its name, tastes nothing like spaghetti. It is great and I love it, but it isn’t spaghetti, let’s be real. It tastes….vegetable-y.
I actually don’t have a very strong opinion about how to cook these because I don’t think the flavor changes much no matter how it is cooked. You can bake it whole and then spoon out the seeds or you can hack it in half raw, then spoon out the seeds, and then bake it. Personally, I like my fingers, so I usually bake it whole.
8. Hubbard Squash: These guys are BEASTS.
They can be HUGE (we’re talking 50 pounds or more!) and because of that are often sold in chunks. They taste like a slightly wetter, less sweet, not at all flakey kabocha squash. The best, and in my opinion ONLY way to eat these is roasted. The skin is HELLA hard though, and a whole one probably won’t fit in your oven, so….good luck.
There are several colors of hubbard that all taste similar – blue, grey, and red are the most common.
9. Delicata: I actually tried this one years ago and hated it. I thought it was too wet. But it is now one of my top 3 favorites. Again, I like to roast these whole. They are best roasted with a light spray of oil, because the skin is so thin that the oil will not only crisp up the skin (I love the squash skin chips!!) but it penetrates into the flesh and it gets all caramelized and delicious. They have a slightly nutty flavor – maybe chestnetty even.
These are the most versatile in terms of cooking. They can be sliced in half and stuffed and served boat-style, sliced into half-moons, sliced into rounds (above), or cubed. They can be roasted, steamed, stir-fried; eaten in soups, salads, on their own; and they are equally good in savory recipes as in sweet.
I’m a fan.
10. Red kuri. This is similar to the Golden nugget, both in looks and in flavor (or lack thereof). I avoid these even though I like them better than the Golden nugget, because they look too similar and I don’t want to get fooled into eating a Golden Nugget. The risk isn’t worth it.
11. Buttercup: This most closely resembles the kabocha squash – in looks and in flavor. It has a similar sweet flesh, dryer than butternut, but not flakey like kabocha. It also has a very obvious…protrusion on the butt end. Like so:
The flesh isn’t as bright as most of the other winter squashes and this one doesn’t taste at all nutty, like some of the others. It is more sweet than most, and the shape makes it perfect for roasting in halves and then serving soup inside it.
12. Acorn: This is probably the most common at the grocery store. Most people love it baked in halves and then smothered in butter and brown sugar and don’t get me wrong, that’s delicious, but….mundane.
I like them better savory. This one I baked and then stuffed with a savory oatmeal after an early morning hot yoga session (years ago!). I added spinach, tomatoes, carrots, and the piece de resistance: Bone Sucking Sauce. BBQ sauce with oatmeal and acorn squash?!? Yes, I’m a food combining pioneer.
There are, of course, other varieties not pictured above. The Turban Squash is a lot like the buttercup in looks (with that weird protrusion), but it can be quite watery and bland. The Banana Squash is, as its name implies, long and skinny, and it reminds me of a hubbard in flavor and texture.
That weird orange and green stripy guy below is called a Mooregold, which is a cross between a hubbard and a buttercup, with a really really thick, inedible skin. It doesn’t always have those stripes, though; the skin can be uniformly orange also.
It tends to be sweet, but it isn’t my favorite because it is harder to cook. I like them best steamed. I also think they have a mild flavor that works best with savory recipes.
Whew. That was EPIC, y’all.
And the funny thing is that I know I am missing some varieties. The white pumpkin, for example (delicious) and…I’m sure more. But I have to stop now because I am drooling all over my keyboard and there is a 20 pound box of kabocha squash in my basement that I need to bring upstairs.
In case you don’t want to just blindly trust me, here is another great resource for all things winter squash, including TONS of recipes!
What is your favorite winter squash variety? How do you cook them and eat them? Did I forget your favorite?