As much as I love summer, fall is a favorite time of year for me. The air is crisp and clean, the leaves are just starting to change and the farmers are starting to bring in new array of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Just as the markets burst in July with bright colors, so do they in September and October. Shiny red apples appear, along with green and yellow beans, bright ribbed rainbow chard and a stunning array winter squash. Yellow, red, green, stripped and speckled squash are everywhere. There are so many shapes and sizes of this seasonal squash it can make your head spin. Before we get into the details, lets talk the basics.
When purchasing your squash look for a shiny firm to hard skin. You should not be able to push a finger into the skin. Winter squash should have a little heaviness to it. If it feels really light, chances are its dried out. Once home you can store your squash for up to a month in a cool dark place. Avoid the refrigerator, unless you cut into it. Then try to use it within a week. For longer storage you can freeze it, but that really won’t be necessary. Most of this type will be available all through the winter, so you will be able to pick it up easily. Winter squash is another one of Mother Nature’s versatile dishes. You can roast, bake and sauté them. They can be the star of the dish like a soup, or a best supporting actor in a puree or stuffing. So lets talk a little about some varieties:
Acorn squash comes in a variety of colors, although green is the most recognized. You can find acorn squash varieties in yellow, orange and striped. It’s shaped like an acorn, hence the name. They tend to be on the smaller size, usually 1 to 1½ pounds, perfect for stuffing. Just about the easiest way to cook the acorn squash is to cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and then cut in wedges following the indentations. Season it with salt and pepper and then roast in a hot oven. When it comes out drizzle with honey or brown sugar. Here is a fun fact: although it’s a winter squash, the acorn varieties is actually from the species called curcurbita pepo, the same as summer squash and zucchini.
Delicata, also from the curcurbita pepo species, is an elongated shaped squash, usually yellow with pretty stripes of variegated green. They are small and very easy to manage, generally weighing in around ¾ to 1 pound. Delicata has a mild sweet flavor when cooked and given the shape, also easily stuffed. Slice lengthwise and scoop out the seeds, season and roast in a hot oven. Alternatively you can slice them again crosswise about ½ inch, roast and flip. The slices will take on a pretty caramelized color and perfect to add into a salad.
Click this link to see my easy recipe for: Delicata Squash, Quinoa and Kale Salad. You can also catch me making it in this video: Seasonal Chef Maria Reina making a delicata squash salad. Here is a fun fact: Delicata squash is one of very few winter squashes with skin thin enough to eat after roasting.
Blue Hubbard squash, a member of the curcurbita maxima species, has a soft blue-grey color with a very hard inedible shell. The hard shell makes this an ideal squash to last though the long winter. In a cool dry spot it’s been known to last up to six months! The best way to break open a blue hubbard is to place it in a large plastic bag or paper bag and drop it on the ground! The shell is pretty tough to cut it with a knife. Blue hubbards grow quite large weighing sometimes up to 40 pounds. The “baby” blue hubbard variety weighs between 4-6 pounds and a little more manageable for home cooking. The best way to prepare it is simply roasting it with a little butter and brown sugar. Fun fact: The blue hubbard squash is often used in place of pumpkin for baking, with a flavor that is sweet, and texture that is soft.
Red Kuri squash, another member of the curcurbita maxima species, has a rich red-orange colored skin, and golden flesh that is smooth and sweet. The red kuri is sometimes called Japanese squash or Onion squash, presumably due to its shape. This squash grows between 4 and 6 pounds typically, and is perfect for a variety of applications like baking, roasting, risotto and soup. Given its shape and size the red kuri is also ideal for stuffing with your favorite grain.
Fun fact: Once cooked the red kuri squash takes on a rich nutty chestnut flavor.
Kabocha squash is also a member of the cucurbita maxima species, and is an Asian variety of winter squash. The skin tends to be knobby with a dull, deep dark green color. Generally the kabocha weighs between 2 to 3 pounds, with a flavor a little sweeter than butternut squash. It’s most ideal roasted or in a soup.
Here is my recipe and video for: Kabocha Squash and Pear Soup. Fun fact: If you enjoy vegetable tempura at the Japanese restaurant then you probably have tasted kabocha.
Spaghetti squash, a member of the curcurbita pepo species, is probably the most different of all the fall and winter squashes. The color ranges from pale yellow to golden yellow. Spaghetti squashes generally range between 2 and 3 pounds, so ideal for a family side dish. The easiest way to cook this squash is to cut it in half, scoop out the seed and roast in a hot oven. Once cooked all you need to do is scrape out the “spaghetti strands” with a fork. The flavor is mild, so seasoning is a must with this variety.
This week I have a new recipe to share using this particular squash. Click this link to see my Spaghetti Squash and Black Bean Pasta recipe. Fun fact: If you are looking to cut back a little on pasta this squash is a perfect substitute, or enhancement.
I would highly encourage you to step out of your comfort zone of butternut and acorn squash and look for some of these special varieties. You will be pleasantly surprised by their taste and flexibility in all kinds of dishes.