>Up until about ten years ago, when I first started visiting farmer’s markets, I hated winter squash. I knew it either as a frozen orange brick, or as a chunk of nameless, flavorless yellow stuff, wrapped in plastic, from the produce section, and it always made me gag. I just couldn’t swallow it. Everything changed the day I cooked a “Delicata”. Now we delight in all kinds of squash, knowing that they all have different cooking needs and flavors.
While all squash are in the gourd, or Cucurbita family, there are four primary groups of winter squash, each with their own characteristics—when in doubt examine the squash’s shape and stem. C. maxima contains the largest squashes, like the Hubbards, Bananas, and Great Pumpkins—some over 800 pounds. Their stems are round and have a corky texture. C. moschata includes the Butternut and Cheese Pumpkin, and typically have a smooth tan skin and a hard, ridged stem that flares where it meets the fruit. These are capable of the longest storage and will sweeten over time. C. pepo includes most of the summer squashes, as well as the Acorn, Delicata, Sugar Pumpkins, and traditional field pumpkins we carve into Jack-o-Lanterns. C. agyrosperma includes several varieties that need a very long, hot growing season—they prefer southern climates and are difficult to identify by their stems alone. We can’t grow them here, so I don’t even know what they look like.
All winter squashes are built for storage and can last for several months if kept in a cool (50–60°), dark, dry location.
The maxima varieties tend to be dry-textured, and will taste best if cut into chunks and steamed or baked. Try putting the chunks in a baking pan—skin side down—with an inch of water in the pan. Add a pat of butter to the non-skin side and a little salt, and bake at 350° for 45–60 minutes. Once cooked, try them mashed with potatoes or other root vegetables.
The pepo and moschata varieties will tend to fall apart and lose flavor if steamed. To bake the little guys, try placing them cut side down in a baking pan with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Bake at 400° for about 20 minutes, then turn them over and lower the heat to 350° for another 20–30 minutes. (I like a little butter inside, too.) Butternut and kabocha/buttercup squashes are actually quite good when cut into chunks and added to soup—just treat them like potatoes.
Check this page for information on how to cut into a winter squash.
Acorn—A.K.A. “Danish Squash”. Common variety with dark green or black ridged skin and a nutty flavor—not sweet. Delicious with a sweet or savory stuffing. C. pepo
Ambercup—This red Buttercup has a very high sugar content. The same rich, sweet flavor with no button. Best steamed or baked with a little liquid to keep from drying out. C. maxima
Blue Banana—Most Banana squash are huge, but this smaller variety is just right. With thick, firm flesh, it’s great for roasting or baking. C. maxima
Buttercup—Rich, sweet flavor and dry, flaky flesh. Very high sugar content. Best steamed or baked with a little liquid to keep from drying out. Also great for soup or gnocchi. C. maxima
Butternut—With its fine-textured creamy orange flesh and delicious sweet taste, this squash is good for everything. C. moschata
Chicago Warted Hubbard—The original Hubbard—large (usually 30 pounds), dark green, and very warty. At some point the smooth-skinned hubbard came along and became more economical to grow, but the standard of squash flavor still starts here. C. maxima
Delicata—A small and long with cream skin and green ridges. Also known as the “Sweet Potato” or “Peanut” squash. The flesh is fine and sweet and will make 2 servings, but once you taste it, you’ll want one all for yourself. C. pepo
Fairy—This butternut relative has thick, honeyed flesh and golden-streaked skin. Excellent in soups or pies, or baked and stuffed. C. moschata
Festival—Somewhere between the Acorn and Delicata lies the qualities of this squash. Light and sweet, deeper than Acorn and almost as rich as Delicata, this squash is a winner. C. pepo
Fordhook Acorn—Introduced in 1890 and nearly lost commercially, the long, golden Acorn-type fruits are beautiful and tasty. C. pepo
Gold Nugget—This variety was bred as a sweet potato substitute for short-season areas. Golden, melt-in-your-mouth flesh. Steam or bake. C. maxima
Heart of Gold—An Acorn type with deeper flavor and higher sugar content. Not quite as sweet as Festival, but sweeter than a true Acorn. C. pepo
Red Kuri—A.K.A. “Orange Hokkaido” or “Baby Red Hubbard”, this is a Japanese variety highly regarded in the macrobiotic diet. Best treated like a Hubbard and will make 3–5 servings. C. maxima
Kabocha—Dry, flaky, sweet, and nutty. Some folks describe the flavor and texture as “like chestnuts”. C. maxima
Spaghetti—Bake or microwave whole. Then use a fork to fluff the spaghetti-like strands of flesh. Toss with your favorite sauce, or just olive oil and good Parmesan cheese. C. pepo
Sugarloaf—A sweeter, drier-textured Delicata, with tan skin and a squat shape. Like Delicata, these will make 2 servings, but don’t be surprised if you eat the whole thing by yourself. C. pepo
New England Pie Pumpkin—Smooth, orange flesh and fine flavor have made this variety a winner for centuries. C. pepo
Rouge Vif D’Etampes—Sweet, dense, rich, fruity-flavored flesh, excellent in pies or soup. This pumpkin was the model for Cinderella’s coach. C. maxima
Sweet Meat—This Northwest heirloom variety with slate-grey skin has the potential to grow quite large—10 pounds or more! These will make 8 or more delicious, nutty, sweet servings, and it stores very well. C. maxima
SAVORY SQUASH GRATIN
7 cloves Garlic
1/2 tsp. Olive Oil
2 medium Acorn Squashes, halved crosswise and seeded
1/2 pound Kale, large stems removed
1 tsp. Butter
Salt and Pepper
1/2 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
2 1/2 tsp. chopped Fresh Thyme, or 1 1/2 tsp. Dried Thyme Leaves
2 1/4 cups Cream
3 tbsp. Bread Crumbs
2/3 cup Grated Parmesan
1. Heat oven to 450°. Place garlic in an ovenproof dish and drizzle with olive oil. Roast until light brown and very soft, about 20 minutes. Let stand until cool enough to handle; peel and cut into slivers; set aside. Reduce oven temp. to 400°.
2. Peel squash and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices; set aside.
3. Steam kale until brightly-colored and wilted, about 1 minute, then chop roughly. Squeeze out as much water as possible and set aside.
4. Butter a 2 1/2-quart baking dish. Distribute half the sliced squash in the dish, reserving the prettiest slices for the top layer, and sprinkle with 1/3 of the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Distribute half the sliced garlic over the squash and sprinkle with 1/2 of the thyme.
5. Arrange the kale over squash and sprinkle with 1/3 of the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Arrange remaining squash over kale and sprinkle with remaining nutmeg, salt, pepper and thyme. Distribute remaining garlic over squash, tucking it between slices.
6. Pour cream over assembled gratin and cover with foil. Bake until squash is soft when pierced with the tip of a knife, 40 minutes; halfway through baking time, remove foil, press down on squash with a spatula to compress and distribute the liquid, cover and continue baking. Meanwhile, combine bread crumbs and parmesan.
7. After the 40 minutes, reduce oven temp. to 375° and sprinkle the bread crumbs and parmesan over the squash, return to oven and continue to bake, uncovered until golden brown. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.
ZUCOTTE: BRAISED GARLICKY WINTER SQUASH
3 tbsp. Butter
2 tbsp. White Wine
10 cloves Garlic, peeled
1-1/4 pounds Butternut (or Delicata, Sugarloaf, Dumpling, Buttercup) squash, peeled, seeded & diced
Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper
3 tbsp. Fresh Parsley, chopped
1. Melt 1 tbsp. of the butter in a large heavy skillet over low heat. Add the wine and garlic. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes. The garlic will brown slightly but should not burn.
2. Mash the garlic with a fork. Stir in the remaining 2 tbsp. butter and the squash. Toss thoroughly to coat. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender, about 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with the parsley.
APPLE & PUMPKIN SOUP
4 cups Chicken Stock
4 Apples, peeled, cored, and diced
2 cups diced Pumpkin
1 small Onion, diced
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated Nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground Coriander
1 cup Rockridge Orchards Apple Cider
1/2 cup Sour Cream
Salt and Pepper
1/4 cup chopped Chives
1. In a large nonreactive pot, bring stock to a boil.
2. Add apples, pumpkin, onion, cinnamon, nutmeg and coriander. Simmer, partly covered, 30 minutes.
3. Purée mixture in a food processor or blender. Return to pot.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together cider and sour cream until smooth. Stir into soup mixture and reaheat gently. Taste for salt and pepper.
5. Sprinkle with chives if desired and serve.
PUMPKIN (SQUASH) MUSH
2 cups Milk
1 cup Puréed Pumpkin or Squash
2/3 cup Yellow Cornmeal
1/3 cup Cold Water
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Ground Ginger
1. Put the milk and pumpkin in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a lid. Heat, stirring to blend, over medium-low heat.
2. Put the cornmeal in a small bowl and stir in the cold water. Stir the cornmeal mixture into the milk and pumpkin, and add the salt and ginger. Cook until thickened, stirring to keep the mush from burning. The mush will be done in 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and spoon into bowls. Serve hot.
(This is really yummy with a little cream or milk and maple syrup!)
WINTER SQUASH PURÉE
2 pounds Winter Squash, any type except Spaghetti
Salt and Pepper
4 cloves Garlic, peeled
6 Sage Leaves
1/4 pound Butter (use less if desired)
3/4 cup Milk or Stock
1. Preheat oven to 400°.
2. Cut the squashes in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds. Season the flesh with salt and pepper, and fill the cavities with the garlic cloves and the sage. Place the squashes skin side down, in a shallow ovenproof dish, and add just enough water to barely cover the bottom, to prevent burning. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until completely tender. Allow to cool. Remove and discard the garlic and sage.
3. In a small saucepan, melt the butter in the milk over low heat. Scoop othe squash flesh out of the skin and put through a food mill or a ricer. Whisk in the milk and butter (or stock) to give a soft texture to the purée. Taste and adjust seasoning.
BAKED WINTER SQUASH SOUP
2 Acorn Squash & 2 Butternut Squash (or any combination of winter squashes adding up to about 10–12 pounds)
8 tbsp. (1 stick) Butter
8 tsp. Dark Brown Sugar
3 Carrots, halved
1 Large Onion, thinly sliced
10 cups Chicken Stock
3/4 tsp. Ground Mace
3/4 tsp. Ground Ginger
Pinch of Cayenne Pepper
Salt, to taste
Sour Cream and Chives for Garnish
1 Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Cut the squashes in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard seeds.
3. Place the squash halves, skin side down, in a shallow roasting pan. Place 1 tbsp. of the butter and 1 tsp. of the brown sugar in the cavity of each squash half. Arrange the carrots and onion slices around the squash Pour 2 cups of the stock in the pan, cover it tightly with aluminum foil, and bake for 2 hours.
4. Remove the pan from the oven, and allow the vegetables to cool slightly. Scoop the squash pulp out of the skins and place it in a soup pot. Add the carrots, onions, and the cooking liquid.
5. Add the remaining 8 cups chicken stock and the mace, ginger, cayenne, and salt. Stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes.
6. Purée the soup, in batches, in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return it to the pot, adjust the seasonings, and heat through. Serve each portion garnished with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of chives, if desired.
SPAGHETTI SQUASH CASSEROLE
1 Spaghetti Squash (4 to 5 pounds)
4 Ripe Tomatoes (or 1 16-oz can of chopped plum tomatoes)
3 tbsp. Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 tsp. Salt
Ground Black Pepper to taste
1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1/4 cup chopped Scallions
Grated Parmesan Cheese for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Cut the squash in half and place face down on a baking dish with a few drops of water to prevent burning. Bake until the squash can be pierced easily with a fork. (30–45 minutes).
2. If using fresh tomatoes, peel, core and coarsely chop them. Pour off the excess liquid.
4. Over medium-high heat, sauté the garlic in 1 tbsp. olive oil until it is crisp.
5. Halve the squash and scrape out the seeds. Using a fork, scoop out the pulp and transfer the spaghetti-like strands to a 2-1/2 quart casserole dish. Add the tomatoes, garlic and oil, salt, pepper, and remaining 3 tbsp. olive oil; toss well. Top with the mozzarella, Parmesan, and scallions.
6. Bake at 350° until heated through, about 35 minutes. Serve with additional Parmesan on the side.