A bunch of uncooked butternut squash lying on a dark background
Your Guide to Winter Squash – And 5 Savory Recipes

As a kid growing up in Florida in the early 80s, I don’t recall seeing a butternut squash, nor do I remember coming across acorn squash, sugar pumpkins – and certainly not delicata. It seems like sometime in the 90s, by the time I was a teenager, butternut squash entered the limelight. And it brought along its friends, too. There became a wider variety of winter squashes available in grocery stores across the country, even in southern climes. Or, perhaps they were always available, and my mother never paid them much attention until they gained in popularity? I can’t be sure, but what I do know is that nowadays, north or south, east or west, people look forward to fall and winter cooking with these delicious and versatile gourds.

While certain types of winter squash are interchangeable in recipes, each have their own distinctive flavor profiles and textures, lending themselves better to a specific preparation. Here’s what you need to know about the major players, and several great ideas for what to do with them once you bring them home:

Acorn Squash

Acorn squash has a light orange or yellowish flesh with a dark green skin, and not surprisingly, is shaped like an acorn. Due to its high water content, it doesn’t lend itself well to baked goods. Stick to tried and true preparation methods, such as slow braising in stews, or splitting down the middle, seeding and roasting. There’s nothing more simple, or more satisfying, than roasted halves of acorn squash hot out of the oven, drizzled with brown butter and a bit of maple syrup.

Occasionally, I’ll stuff the baked squash halves with cooked and seasoned grains, such as quinoa or wild rice, for an all-in-one hearty fall meal. Or, to take it in another direction, after its flesh is meltingly soft, I’ll scoop it out to use in a silky smooth soup, or spread it like a sauce over pizza dough, as I do here in this skillet pizza.

Acorn Squash Skillet Pizza

In this fall-themed pizza, mashed acorn squash stands in for the sauce. You must plan ahead, as the squash takes about 30 or 40 minutes to roast in the oven, and the red onions about the same amount of time to cook, but the results are worth your time. Because it's baked in a skillet, the dough develops a crispy crust on the outside but stays pillowy in the center, which is the perfect base for the sweet acorn squash, soft caremlized onions, salty prosciutto, and honey drizzle.
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Butternut Squash

Butternut squash has a sweet, light orange flesh that is dryer than acorn squash or pumpkin. Due to its lower moisture content, this versatile squash can be used in many different preparations. Perhaps, most commonly, it is peeled, seeded and cubed, then roasted with olive oil and salt. It can then be seasoned further, such as with garlic and spices and served warm, or cooled and tossed into salads.

Pureed butternut squash can be used interchangeably with pumpkin puree, it makes a great soup base, and a delicious pasta sauce. I like to split the squash in half, lay it cut side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and roast until soft. Then, I peel the skin away and mash the flesh. It’s ready for anything from homemade gnocchi to a butternut hummus served with pita bread. This recipe for an Indian-style butternut squash and coconut soup is uniquely seasoned, with fennel seed and star anise, providing a warming, delicately spiced flavor.

Spiced Butternut Squash & Coconut Soup

Adapted from Ammu
This isn't your ordinary butternut squash soup. With a few easily sourced ingredients, this silky smooth puree becomes one of the best fall soups I've ever tasted. I adapted the recipe from an Indian cookbook, Ammu, and the flavors blew my mind. I find this soup needs no garnish whatsoever. It is purely delicious. You can find whole star anise and fennel seeds in the spice section of your grocery store, and if yours doesn't carry fresh tumeric, using ground will work just as well.
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Delicata Squash

Delicata squash is the yellowish, oblong squash you’ll find amongst the butternuts and acorns at the grocery store. I find this variety to be one of the easiest to work with. It cooks fairly quickly, and need not be peeled. Cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and then cut crosswise into half-moons. Roasting with olive oil and salt is the simplest preparation, though other seasonings can be added. Typically, I’ll pour over a mixture of fresh squeezed orange juice and a bit of maple syrup during the last 5 minutes of cooking to create a sticky sweet glaze.

Rosemary Roasted Delicata Squash Salad with Grapes & Hazelnuts

The flavors of autumn are present in this easy to make salad. You must allow time for the squash to roast and cool, but then it is simply arranging the ingredients in a bowl and tossing with oil and vinegar. Balsamic syrup, a thickened balsamic vinegar with a concentrated flavor, can be found with the vinegars at your grocery.
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Kabocha Squash

This Asian squash is one of my favorites. It has a dark green skin that is thick, but edible, and a bright orange flesh that is sweet and dry. Due to its very low moisture content, it’s not an excellent roasting squash. The best preparations are cooked in some sort of liquid, such as chicken or vegetable broth, or a Japanese style dashi. If I plan to use the flesh for baking, I remove the peel first, cook the flesh in milk and then puree it with a small amount of the cooking liquid so it comes out creamy and moist.

The skin is too thick to peel with a vegetable peeler, so using a sharp knife is best. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. With the cut side of the squash laid flat against the cutting board so it doesn’t slip, slice down to remove the skin. This is a necessary step if you plan to shred it in a food processor, which is a preparation I often use. Once shredded, I’ll toss it in a pot with rice or polenta, lots of water or broth, and then cook it low and slow on the stovetop. I may top this squash/polenta porridge with sauteed sausage and peppers for a hearty fall dinner, or if I’m using rice, make a Chinese-style congee served with mushrooms and tofu.

Kabocha Squash and Rice Porridge with Skillet Mushrooms & Tofu

A congee is a Chinese rice dish made with a large amount of water to rice ratio, slow cooked on the stovetop to create a creamy porridge; one of the world's great comfort meals. Here I've added shredded kabocha squash to the pot, which adds a distinct flavor and a lovely orange color, and topped it off with pan fried mushrooms and tofu. After they come out of the skillet, a splash of soy and bit of honey go in the same pan to make a quick sauce to tie it all together.
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Sugar Pumpkin or Pie Pumpkin

This is the variety that you’ll find canned in grocery stores, and there’s no shame in going this route when baking a cake or pumpkin bread. But, there are occasions when a fresh pumpkin is best, like in a hearty fall stew. A sugar pumpkin is quite sturdy, so if you choose to prepare one, you must be careful with when cutting it open. A large chef’s knife is the best tool for the job. When using fresh pumpkin in a soup or stew, it must be peeled, which is a tad cumbersome, though not a terrible task. Otherwise, roast it in the skin and scoop out the soft flesh once cooled. It can be mashed with a fork or potato masher, or pureed for a smoother consistency.

Flavorful Afghan-Style Pumpkin Stew with Garlicky Yogurt

Adapted from Ripe Figs
Use any kind of winter squash in this dish that you prefer. Butternut, pumpkin, acorn or delicata are all great options. If you go with acorn or delicata, you don't need to peel them, just scoop out the seeds and cube. The combination of spices in this dish is incredibly satisfying and warming. Garlic, ginger, cumin, turmeric, and coriander combine in a powerhouse of flavor, and together with the squash and chickpeas, create a superfood dinner that is as delicious as it is healthy.
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