Once the weather cools down, bright and colourful winter squash hits the shelves. Even though they’re often thought of as a starchy and hard-shelled vegetable, they’re actually a fruit! Winter squash are harvested in the fall and all varieties have a long shelf life, meaning they’ll last throughout the winter months. Winter squash are known for their versatile flavour that works in both sweet and savoury preparations.
With a range of shapes, sizes and colours, a common feature among most types of winter squash is a deep-orange or yellow flesh. They are best when cooked, and can be roasted, boiled, pureed, steamed and sautéed. Here’s a breakdown of the most common types of winter squash you’ll find at your local grocery store or farmers’ market.
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One of the most common types of winter squash is the butternut squash. With a light-tan rind, orange flesh and a flavour similar to sweet potatoes, butternut squash is sweet and has a creamy texture when cooked. When shopping for butternut squash, choose one that feels heavy for its size.
How to cook butternut squash
Butternut squash can be unwieldy and difficult to chop, so try softening in the microwave before cutting into it. Just poke it all over with a fork and microwave it for three to four minutes. Cut off the ends (be careful, it’ll be hot) and then cut it in half, or in quarters and de-seed it before you roast, steam or boil it. If you’re cubing your squash (to throw in salad or purée into soup), be sure to remove the peel—butternut squash peel is tough and inedible.
Butternut squash recipes
Acorn squash are characterized by their ridged skin, which can range from dark green, to green with yellow and orange spots. With a sweet and nutty flavour, acorn squash gets its name from its acorn-like shape. When shopping for acorn squash, look for ones that are dark green without any blemishes that weigh between one and three pounds.
How to cook acorn squash
As with any type of squash, you’ll want to de-seed your acorn squash before roasting it. With its ridged skin, acorn squash is challenging to peel; just leave the peel on, it’s edible and will become soft when cooked. Since it’s small, acorn squash makes a delicious bowl or serving vessel. To make your own edible bowl, cut off the top, remove the seeds, brush the inside of the squash with olive oil (and sprinkle with salt and pepper), then bake flesh-side down in a 400 F oven until tender (about 40 minutes).
Acorn squash recipes
Kabocha is a sweet Japanese squash that is incredibly smooth and creamy when cooked. It makes a great alternative to puréed cooked pumpkin and butternut squash to use in baked goods. Look for dark green squash with a dull rind without any soft spots.
How to cook kabocha
Before you attempt to cut into your kabocha squash, pierce it all over with a knife and then microwave it for two to three minutes. To simply roast it, cut it in half, de-seed it and then slice it into wedges. Drizzle the wedges with oil and placing them flesh-side down in a 400 F oven until tender. Like acorn squash, the tough rind is edible.
- Cherry pork chops with roasted squash and brussels sprouts
- Soba noodle salad with soft eggs, kale and kabocha
- Sugar and spice roasted kabocha squash
Oblong in shape with a bright, creamy yellow shell, spaghetti squash gets its name from the spaghetti-like strands the flesh separates into when roasted. Look for spaghetti squash with a firm and blemish-free rind and rounded stem.
How to cook spaghetti squash
As with kabocha squash, pierce your spaghetti squash with a knife and microwave it before hacking into it. To create spaghetti-like strands, cut your squash in half, de-seed it, brush it with olive oil and sprinkle it with salt and roast it flesh-side down in a 400 F oven until tender (40-50 minutes). Use a fork to pull off strands of cooked squash and serve like spaghetti with your favourite sauce.
Spaghetti squash recipes
- Roasted spaghetti squash
- Lasagna-stuffed spaghetti squash
- Asparagus, shiitake and spaghetti squash sauté
When it comes to using pumpkins in the kitchen, opt for sugar pumpkins because they’re less fibrous and sweeter than larger varieties (and easier to handle). You can roast your own to make homemade purée or pick up a can at your local store. Pumpkin isn’t only for sweet desserts; try roasting cubed pumpkin or adding it to soups and stews like you would any kind of squash for a fall-inspired dish.
How to cook pumpkin
To prepare pumpkin purée, quarter pumpkin (scoop out and discard seeds), roast pumpkin quarters at 400 F in a large baking dish, covered with foil until fork-tender (about 1 hour). When cool enough to handle, scoop flesh from skins and whirl in a food processor until smooth.
How to store winter squash
Store winter squash in a cool, dark place and it will keep for up to three months.
How to make roasted pumpkin seeds
Originally published October 2015; Updated February 2020.