Out go the yellow summer squash and zucchini, and in come the pumpkins, butternuts, and heartier autumn squashes. Now that fall is upon much of the country, it’s time to ditch warm-weather vegetables and embrace this sweet harvest. But beyond pumpkins, butternuts, and acorns, many of us have no idea what all the squashes in crazy shapes and colors are called, and how to use them. Given the variety available in many markets, we wanted to give you a breakdown of what to look for when shopping.
Acorn Squash – The easiest way to identify an acorn squash? Well it looks like an acorn (duh). These green squashes with orange flesh are thick-skinned and can be served peeled or sliced (with the skin in tact). Acorn squash is fairly adaptable and can be used in a variety of dishes.
Banana Squash – These cylindrical squashes can be gigantic, growing to sizes of up to 3 feet long and 35 pounds. Once you get through the thick rind, banana squash contains an orange flesh that is similar to Kabocha or Butternut. Use banana squash in recipes that call for roasting or pureeing as a soup.
Buttercup Squash – Squat and green, buttercup squashes have a thick, inedible rind with dark yellow flesh. Buttercup squashes have a sweet, nutty flavor and are best used in recipes that involve steaming or baking.
Butternut Squash – One of the most popular (and easily identifiable) of the winter squashes, butternut squashes are those bowling pin shaped, tannish ones that you will find in pretty much any grocery store. They can be used in pretty much anything; soups, stews, roasted, pureed, etc.
Carnival Squash – Tiny and heavily creviced, carnival squashes are known for their speckled green and orange skin that will eventually fade to a yellowish orange when fully ripe. While carnival squashes can be treated like any other orange-fleshed squash, they are best when roasted to help strengthen their flavor.
Delicata Squash – Long and skinny, Delicata squashes are yellow with green or orange stripes running the horizontal length. They have thinner skin than a butternut and are great for using as a cooking vessel (see recipes below), since they hold their shape well when cooking.
Hubbard Squash – These bumpy skinned, hard-shelled pumpkins are pretty ugly but inside is a dense, richly flavored flesh. Since the Hubbard squash is so hard to peel, it is best halved and then roasted. When it’s done roasting, the flesh can be scooped out and used in soups or purées.
Kabocha Squash – Kabocha, also known as Japanese pumpkin, is a squat green squash with a green skin that is marked with uneven stripes. Kabocha can be cooked with the skin on (and you can eat it too) and is pretty malleable in any recipe.
Pumpkin – Good ol’ Charlie Brown pumpkin, a.k.a. the one you carve. The orange flesh of pumpkin can be cooked in a variety of ways, but it’s best in pies, cakes, breads, and other baked goods.
Spaghetti Squash – Large and oval, spaghetti squashes more closely resemble melons than some of the other squashes on the list; when cooked, the flesh of the spaghetti squash becomes stringy and has a consistency that resembles pasta; substitute spaghetti squash for pasta for a gluten-free meal.
Sugar Pumpkin – Also identified as decorative pumpkins, sugar pumpkins are basically mini (regular) pumpkins that average around 6 to 8 inches in size. They can be baked and then the flesh can be pureed for soups or like their bigger brother, used in pies.
And now onto some recipes using all that squashkin knowledge …
1. Roasted Spaghetti Squash
How about making a plate of spaghetti that contains no noodles? Using nature’s squashy spaghetti can provide you with a low-carb, gluten-free way to make pasta. This version is inspired by the classic cacio e pepe. It’s simple, which lets you taste the squash instead of mask it. Get our Roasted Spaghetti Squash recipe.
2. Roasted Acorn Squash with Wild Rice Stuffing
Loaded with wild rice, pecans and cranberries, our recipe is a hearty vegetarian dish that is a meal in itself. Get our Roasted Acorn Squash with Wild Rice Stuffing recipe.
3. Slow Cooker Buttercup Squash and Red Pepper Soup
Spiced, roasted chickpeas make a hearty garnish for this healthy, bright, flavorful soup that you can let simmer in the Crock-Pot for four hours. Get our Slow Cooker Butternut Squash and Red Pepper Soup recipe.
4. Roasted Butternut Squash, Millet and Lentil Burritos
If you didn’t think squash could be used in a burrito, think again and try this recipe for One Green Planet. Get the recipe here.
5. Butternut Squash, Kale and Faro Soup
As the weather gets colder, try this hearty soup that combines cubes of butternut squash, kale, and faro. Get our Butternut Squash, Kale and Faro Soup recipe.
6. Roasted Delicata Squash Salad
Skip the Butternut squash and try out this this hearty fall salad, which combines spinach, pumpkin seeds, and ricotta salata along with roasted delicata squash. Get our Roasted Delicata Squash Salad recipe.
7. Perfect Pumpkin Pie
Like the title says, this is our recipe for the perfect pumpkin pie – just try to find a better recipe (that isn’t your grandma’s secret one). Get our Perfect Pumpkin Pie recipe.
8. Thai Red Curry with Kabocha Squash
Japanese pumpkin steals the show in this spicy red curry that makes a great one pot vegetarian meal. Get our Thai Red Curry with Kabocha Squash recipe.
9. Spaghetti Squash Cake
Roasted squash serves as a substitute for potatoes in this latke-like dish that is served along with seared salmon. Get our Spaghetti Squash Cake recipe.
10. Spicy Squash Tacos
We’ve already given you a burrito recipe but how about these spicy squash tacos that have diced butternut squash, pickled jalapeños, and queso fresco. Get our Spicy Squash Tacos recipe.
11. Pumpkin Gnocchi with Crème Fraiche – Sage Sauce
Pureed pumpkin is the base for the gnocchi dough, which is combined with a fresh cream sauce made with crème fraiche and sage. Get our Pumpkin Gnocchi with Crème Fraiche-Sage Sauce recipe.
12. Squash and Saffron Risotto
Try out this indulgent risotto that is flavored with saffron and sautéed butternut squash. Get our Squash and Saffron Risotto recipe.
Dan McKay is a Canadian actor, film director, screenwriter, and musician—oh wait, that’s Ryan Gosling. Dan is a Philly-based freelance writer, photographer, and digital marketer. He has written for Eater and Thrillist, in addition to other publications. Outside of work, you might run across him in the Asian market or in one of Philly’s local drinking establishments.
— Article written by Dan McKay was published in October 2015; article updated by Amy Sowder in October 2016.