Winter Squash and Pumpkins Varieties

Thanksgiving Guide

  • Various squash
  • Winter Squash
  • Although called “winter squash,” the natural season of these varieties of squash and pumpkins runs from late summer to mid-winter, with some varieties available year-round. There are several to choose from, from homey acorn squash and magical Cinderella pumpkins to charmingly shaped turban squash.Winter squash have thick, tough shells that protect the sweet, rich flesh inside which makes them excellent storage vegetables. No matter what variety of winter squash or pumpkin you choose, always pick squash that feels heavy for their size. Also, make sure to cook the squash properly to bring out its best flavor and texture.
  • Butternut SquashButternut squashOver the past several years, butternut squash has become a standard ingredient on menus as the star in a creamy soup, ravioli filling, or risotto flavor. It is the sweetest winter squash with a thick, bright orange, moist flesh that hides very few seeds. The squash is an elongated pear shape with a thin, pale tan skin that is easy to peel. They usually weigh between 2 and 3 pounds.Butternut squash is quite versatile; it sautes quickly​ and is especially delicious when roasted. Best of all, it mashes and purees smoothly, with no thick strands or fibrous bits, making it perfect to turn into a luscious soup.
  • Acorn SquashAcorn squashUntil the recent rise in popularity of butternut squash, acorn squash was the most commonly available in the U.S. Acorn squash are round, with even groves around the entire squash and moist, sweet, tender flesh. The skin is mostly dark green, with occasional splotches of orange and yellow and the flesh is slightly yellowish pumpkin orange. They tend to weigh between 12 ounces and 2 pounds. Perfect for roasting, baking, steaming, mashing, and sautéing, these flavorful squash are quite versatile, and the smaller ones can simply be cut in half, seeds removed, and roasted with a little butter and brown sugar for a sweet side dish the kids will love. They’re also the ideal vessel for stuffing, and make an excellent vegan main course for special occasions and holidays.
  • Spaghetti SquashWhole and Halved Spaghetti SquashSpaghetti squash is all about the texture; once cooked, the flesh pulls apart into thick, slightly crisp, noodle-like strands (hence the name). Many people then serve it with tomato sauce, but there are other delicious ways to prepare and serve this squash such as simply roasting it with butter and salt.Spaghetti squash is large, weighing in between 3 and 5 pounds, with pale yellow-white skin and orange or bright yellow flesh. When raw and cut in half, the interior is similar looking to other squash in that is it solid and filled with seeds; it is only after it is cooked that it takes on the appearance of spaghetti.
  • Delicata SquashDelicata squashDelicata squash is small, oblong, and cheerfully striped in bright yellow, dark green, and orange. The peel is exceptionally thin and is, in fact, edible (although many choose not to partake). The flesh is sweet, nutty, and a bit drier than other squash with a distinct corn-like flavor. It is particularly delicious cut into rings and roasted with butter, maple syrup, and cinnamon. You can also stuff the halves and bake. Because of its thin skin, however, it does not store as long or as easily as other winter squash. When purchasing, make sure to check delicatas for bruises, cuts, and soft spots before buying. Delicate squash tends to weigh less than a pound.
  • Hubbard SquashWinter SquashHubbard squash can be some of the largest winter squash you’ll find (besides field pumpkins, that is)—the smallest ones still dwarf the largest of butternut squash. Because of their size, hubbards are often sold in seeded pre-cut chunks, making the squash more appealing to home cooks.Hubbards are slightly tear-shaped with dark green to pale grayish blue skins and remarkably sweet flesh with a clear pumpkin flavor. They are at their best when roasted; try seasoning them with rosemary and black pepper. Or roast and then mash them along with plenty of butter and warm spices like cumin or nutmeg. They sweeten as they sit and their extra-thick skins help them store through the winter (up to 5 months if kept properly cool and dry). Since hubbards are so big, you may find you have leftovers, in which case you can easily make a delicious winter squash spice cake.
  • Sweet Dumpling SquashLittle SquashThe yellow skin with bright orange or deep green stripes makes this small, terribly cute squash hard to resist. They are no more than 4 inches in diameter and weigh less than a pound, making them perfect for stuffing, roasting, and serving as an appetizer or side dish. Due to its shape and size, the exterior of sweet dumpling squash is difficult to peel, so the squash is usually cooked along with its skin, either cut into wedges or halved horizontally; once cooked, you can choose to eat the skin or discard it. The flesh is starchy but has a smooth texture and is sweet with a slight corn flavor.
  • Blue Hokkaido PumpkinBlue Squash at Farmers MarketBlue Hokkaido squash (a type of pumpkin) is quite special. As if the gray-blue skin giving way to bright orange flesh didn’t have you sold, these squash also have a wonderfully subtle sweet and deeply nutty flavor that stands on its own better than any winter squash. Simply roasted with a bit of salt and butter, the Blue Hokkaido is delicious. It also makes a wonderful vessel for a dramatic stuffed squash and its flesh mashes up nicely into baked good or soups.
  • Kabocha SquashKabocha SquashKabocha squash is remarkably sweet and tender with a slightly nutty flavor. The dense, smooth, sweet flesh is so tasty it needs very little fuss in preparation—roasting it or slicing and baking it with a bit of butter or oil and salt are all these delicious squash needs. The flesh also holds its shape when cooked, even in liquids, which makes it perfect for incorporating as chunks in soups or steamed dishes, as well as making into tempura. It pairs nicely with ginger and sesame as well. Kabocha squash is large, round, and squat. They are dark green and mottled, often with bumpy skin and make lovely table decoration until they’re cooked. The peel is really more of a rind and is difficult to cut so the squash is usually cooked with the skin intact.​
  • Long Island Cheese PumpkinsPumpkins at Farmers MarketThe plump and magical shape of cheese pumpkins means they are often, along with Rouge Vif d’Etampes pumpkins, called “Cinderella pumpkins” since it is easy to imagine them suddenly springing into a carriage. They are one of the oldest pumpkin varieties cultivated in the U.S.Cheese pumpkins have wonderfully sweet and firm flesh, perfect for roasting, but this pumpkin can also be baked, steamed, boiled, grilled, and even pickled. Most parts of a cheese pumpkin are edible, including the skin and seeds.
  • Rouge Vif d’Etampes PumpkinsCinderella PumpkinsRouge Vif d’Etampes pumpkins are a brilliant red-orange color that would be magical enough, but they are also wonderfully round and squat, the combination giving them the nickname “Cinderella pumpkins.” The vibrant color continues on the inside of Rouge Vif d’Etampes pumpkins, which are perfect for roasting with a bit of spice.
  • Hokkaido Squash (Red Kuri)Red Kuri SquashThe Hokkaido squash, also called Red Kuri squash, looks like a small, red-orange pumpkin without the deep ridges in the sides. The flesh is bright orange and has a mellow, somewhat nutty flavor that is good in soups or baked goods; the Red Kuri’s small size also makes it perfect for stuffing and roasting. Spicy Sambal roasted pumpkin works with pretty much any winter squash but is particularly delicious with the nutty flavor of Red Kuri.
  • Giraumon SquashPile of Turban Squash at Farmers MarketGiraumons’ colors range from mottled green, orange, and yellow and the skin is interestingly bumpy, which is why they are widely used as decoration. They can, unlike decorative gourds, be roasted and eaten, their mild flesh taking nicely to a wide range of seasonings and their floury texture working well in soups. The large turban squash makes excellent edible soup tureens; simply roast until tender and fill.
  • Sugar Pie and Other Sweet PumpkinsPumpkinsYes, pumpkins are winter squash. Field pumpkins, like those used for jack o’ lanterns, have dry, flavorless flesh. They can be used as baked tureens for soup, but are otherwise best left for carving and decoration. Some varieties of pumpkins, however, can be roasted or turned into soups just like other scrumptious winter squash. “Sugar pie” and other smaller, sweet pumpkins make for great eating and can be used just like acorn squash. The smaller specimens can be hollowed out, roasted until tender, and filled with savory custards or small portions of soup for a fun dinner party treat. Look for pumpkins labeled sweet or sugar pumpkins. You can bake, roast, mash, or puree these eating pumpkins just like other winter squash. They are also tasty when made the star ingredient in a quiche.
  • White PumpkinsSmall white pumpkinsSome white pumpkins are simply white field pumpkins and are best used for decorations and carving. Others, though, are new or heirloom varieties that make for sweet and delicious eating. Their flesh tends to be in the yellow-to-mild orange spectrum, not white like their exteriors and has a wonderful taste and texture. White pumpkins are available in several varieties, but the lumina tends to have the best taste. Use a white pumpkin next time you bake a pumpkin cake.

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