These cooler days are a great time to cook with winter squash. Sweeter, denser and more firm in texture than summer squash or zucchini, winter squashes take well to a wide variety of recipes and can be delicious in soups, casseroles, risotto, lasagna and even desserts.
Winter squash are harvested in the fall and these hardy vegetables will keep well through the cold winter months for which they’re named. Sugar pumpkins, acorn squash, spaghetti and butternut squash are probably the most common types to find at your local supermarket. The other varieties are worth seeking out at farmers’ markets and specialty markets. Regardless of the type, select winter squash that are blemish and bruise free with an intact stem and a heavy feeling for their size.
Naturally low in fat and calories, winter squash provide significant nutritional benefits. For example, one cup of baked butternut squash contains vitamins A (from beta carotene), B6, C and E, as well as magnesium, potassium and manganese. Flavors are generally mild-to-sweet, so squash won’t overwhelm other ingredients and can easily be incorporated into seasonal recipes. The orange and yellow flesh helps brighten dishes, especially in the colder months, when variety and color can be hard to come by in seasonal produce. Don’t be discouraged by winter squash’s size and tough exterior and you can sometimes find popular varieties, like butternut, in stores already peeled and cubed. See my earlier post on tips for cutting up winter squash.
See chart above for photos of each of the following winter squashes.
1. Kabocha Squash
Characteristics: The squat, green kabocha—the Japanese word for squash—has a nutty, earthy flavor with just a touch of sweetness. It’s similar in shape and size to a buttercup squash, but the base points out and not in.
2. Butternut Squash
Characteristics: A slim neck and bulbous bottom give the butternut squash its distinctive bell shape. The muted yellow-tan rind hides bright orange-yellow flesh with a slightly sweet taste. To make butternut squash easier to handle, cut the neck from the body and work with each section separately.
3. Red Kabocha Squash
Characteristics: The red kabocha is squat, like its green counterpart, and has faint white stripes running from top to bottom. While the green kabocha is savory, the red kabocha is sweeter.
4. Carnival Squash
Characteristics: Combine an acorn squash with a sweet dumpling squash and you get a carnival squash. While the carnival squash’s exterior resembles both of its relatives, its yellow flesh is mellow and sweet. Use it wherever acorn squash or butternut squash is called for in a recipe.
5. Sugar Pumpkin
Characteristics: Sugar pumpkins are prized for their classic pumpkin flavor, as well as for their thick and fleshy walls. If you’d like to opt out of canned pumpkin for your baking and make your own purée instead, use a sugar pumpkin.
6. Sweet Dumpling Squash
Characteristics: This whitish-yellow and green squash is small and compact, making the whole squash the perfect-size for an individual serving. The flesh tastes very much like a sweet potato and the skin is edible is as well. Use sweet dumpling squash in recipes calling for sweet potato or pumpkin.
7. Spaghetti Squash
Characteristics: Take a fork to the inside of a cooked spaghetti squash and you’ll understand how this squash got its name. If you’re in search of a healthy pasta alternative, try this very mild-tasting squash.
8. Blue Hubbard Squash
Characteristics: Most blue Hubbard squash are huge and bumpy and are often sold as pre-cut wedges. Some varieties, like the Blue Ballet, are smaller, making it easier to store and prepare at home. Underneath the gray-blue skin is sweet-tasting orange flesh.
9. Delicata Squash
Characteristics: This particular winter squash, with its pale yellow shading, most closely resembles its summer squash relatives. The thin skin is edible, but also more susceptible to bruises and rot. When cooked, the delicata has a consistency similar to that of a sweet potato—creamy and soft—although the flavoring is more earthy.
10. Red Kuri Squash
Characteristics: Like all Hubbards, the red kuri has an asymmetrical, lopsided look to it. However, the red kuri is smaller and easier to handle. Its yellow flesh is smooth and has a chestnut like flavor.
11. Buttercup Squash
Characteristics: Compact and green with paler green stripes, the buttercup can closely resemble a kabocha squash but it has a distinctive circular ridge on the bottom. On some, the ridge may surround a more pronounced bump, or “turban.” A freshly cut buttercup may smell like a cucumber, but once cooked, its orange flesh becomes dense.
12. Acorn Squash
Characteristics: This mild flavored squash is named for its acorn like shape. Choose one with a dull green rind; an acorn squash that’s turned orange will have tough and fibrous flesh.
(Adapted from Gourmet Magazine)
Squash and Fish Chowder
- 1 pound cod or white fish available in your area, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 leeks, white and pale green parts only, chopped in 1/2-inch sections
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
- 4 potatoes, chopped in 1-inch pieces
- 1 medium carrot, chopped in 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 pound winter squash, chopped in 1/2-inch pieces
- 4-5 cups low sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
- Salt and pepper
Place a large pot over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and sauté leeks until they brown slightly, 10 to 15 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until they begin to take on a slight tan color, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add potatoes, carrot, squash and cod pieces. Immediately, pour in enough broth to cover and add 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Bring soup to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 15 to 25 minutes or until potatoes and squash are tender. Stir once or twice. Add salt and pepper, if needed.
Mediterranean Squash with Lemon Sauce
This dish goes very well with baked chicken.
- 1 small kabocha squash or large acorn squash (1 pound), scrubbed,
- 1 1-pound delicata squash, scrubbed, cut into 1″-thick wedges or rings, seeded
- 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano, divided
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 4 scallions, cut into 2″ pieces
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)
- Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper flakes
Arrange two racks in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 425°F.
Place kabocha on one rimmed baking sheet and delicata on a second sheet. Drizzle 3 tablespoons oil over the squash on both baking sheets and sprinkle each pan with a 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano. Season squash with salt and pepper; toss. Roast for 15 minutes.
Combine 1 tablespoon oil and the scallions in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Scatter scallion mixture over the squash, dividing evenly between the two baking sheets, and continue to roast until squash is tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes longer (time may vary depending on squash).
Whisk lemon juice, tahini and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Transfer squash to a serving platter. Drizzle sauce over the squash and sprinkle with Aleppo pepper.
Sweet Squash Turnovers
- 4 lb squash, sugar pumpkin or any winter squash of choice
- 2 cups water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4 whole cloves
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup shortening or butter
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Egg white mixed with 1 tablespoon water
- Cinnamon-sugar mixture (1 teaspoon ground cinnamon mixed with 1/4 cup sugar)
To make the filling:
Rinse off the exterior of the squash. Using a serrated knife cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Scrape out the stringy layer (pulp) with a spoon. Discard seeds and pulp and cut into 4 inch slices leaving the skin on.
In a steamer or large pot, steam the squash over the 2 cups of water, making sure to keep the lid on tight, for 20 to 40 minutes, or until tender. Cool. Once cooled, scrape the flesh off the skins and into a mixing bowl. Discard the skins. Mash with a potato masher and strain the liquid in a colander into a bowl. Reserve the liquid and set squash puree aside.
In the same large pot, put the reserved liquid from the squash (you will have about about 1/2 to 2/3 cup) and the add cinnamon sticks and cloves. Bring liquid to a boil and then remove the pan from the heat. Replace the lid and let steep for 30 minutes.
Remove cinnamon and cloves and add the squash puree to the liquid. Add the brown sugar and over medium-low heat let it melt into the squash puree, stirring occasionally, so it will not burn or stick to the pot. Once the sugar has melted, lower the heat to low and let simmer uncovered until all the water evaporates. Remove from the heat and allow to cool down before refrigerating, about 15 minutes. Place in the refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight.
To make the pastry dough:
Mix the first 3 dry ingredients. Cut in the shortening and add the eggs, milk, sugar and cinnamon. Combine until you have a soft dough. Cut the dough in half, wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
To make the turnovers:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place oven racks in the middle and upper third of the oven.
Take out half the dough and divide it into 12 equal balls of dough. Keep the remaining dough in the refrigerator until you are finished with the first half.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough balls into small round circles, about 4-5 inches. Place a tablespoon of filling on one half of each of the dough circles. Wet the bottom edges of the circles with water to help seal the two halves. Fold over the dough to cover the filling and seal the edges with a fork by pressing down along the edges. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
Brush each turnover with egg white mixture, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar mixture. Puncture the top of each turnover with a fork.
Spray a large cookie sheet with cooking spray, place turnovers on the cookie sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes on the middle rack in the oven. After 15 minutes move the cookie sheet to the top rack and continue to bake for the last 5 minutes, until golden brown. Follow the same procedure for the remaining turnovers.
Squash and Hazelnut Lasagna
For the squash filling
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 lb butternut squash or squash of choice, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 4 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
- 1 cup hazelnuts (4 oz), toasted , loose skins rubbed off with a kitchen towel and chopped
For the sauce
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 5 cups milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
For assembling the lasagna
- 1/2 lb mozzarella, coarsely grated (2 cups)
- 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (3 oz)
- 12 lasagna noodles, partially cooked
To make the filling:
Cook onion in butter in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add squash, garlic, salt and white pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is just tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in parsley, sage and nuts. Cool filling.
To make the sauce:
Cook garlic in butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in flour and cook mixture, whisking, for 3 minutes. Add milk in a steady stream, whisking. Add bay leaf and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, for 10 minutes. Whisk in salt and white pepper and remove from heat. Discard bay leaf. (Cover surface of the sauce with wax paper, if not using immediately.)
To assemble the lasagna:
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Cook lasagna noodles in boiling salted water, about 6 minutes. Drain and place on kitchen towels, so they do not stick together.
Mix cheeses together. Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in a buttered 13x9x2 inch glass baking dish (or other shallow 3-quart baking dish) and cover the sauce with 3 pasta sheets, leaving spaces between the sheets. Spread with 2/3 cup sauce and one-third of the filling, then sprinkle with a 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat layering 2 more times, beginning with pasta sheets and ending with cheese. Top with remaining 3 pasta sheets, remaining sauce and remaining cheese.
Tightly cover baking dish with buttered heavy-duty foil and bake the lasagna in the middle of the for oven 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until golden and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let lasagna stand 20 minutes before serving.
Kabocha Squash Mini-Cakes
- 2 cups 3/4-inch cubes peeled seeded kabocha squash (from one 3-pound squash)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- Nonstick vegetable oil spray
- 2/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup mild-flavored beer
- 1 large egg
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups vanilla flavored Greek yogurt
- 1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
Combine squash and milk in a heavy small saucepan. Scrape in seeds from the vanilla bean; add the bean pod. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Partially cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until squash is very tender, about 20 minutes. Remove vanilla bean pod. Drain squash. Place in a processor and blend until smooth.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray six 3/4 cup ramekins with nonstick spray. Place 1/2 cup squash puree in large bowl (reserve remaining puree for another baking use). Add sugar, oil, beer and egg to puree and beat to blend. Sift flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt over; beat to blend. Divide batter among prepared ramekins.
Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 18 minutes. Cool cakes in ramekins. Turn out onto serving plates.
Topping: Combine yogurt and brown sugar. Serve with the mini-cakes.