The Ultimate Guide to Winter Squash

Every market is brimming with squash right now but aside from Butternut and Acorn squash, many of us are perplexed at what to do with all those uniquely shaped and colourful squash varieties available to buy. Well, wonder no more – consider us your squash experts for the day!

Winter squash have thick, tough shells that protect the sweet, rich flesh inside, making them excellent for storing; they’ll last up to 3 months in a cool dark place so stock up when you hit the markets and you’ll be enjoying them for months to come. Regardless of the type, to get the best quality, select winter squash that are blemish- and bruise-free, with an intact stem and heavy feeling for their size. Also, make sure to cook the squash properly to bring out its best flavor and texture.

Roasting squash is my favourite way to get the most flavour with as little effort out of a humble squash. For most varieties, it’s as easy as slicing in half, scooping out the seeds, rubbing with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasting around 375-400 until the flesh soft enough to scoop out of the skins.

If you’re curious if your local farmer grows squash, here is a list of farms and how to get in touch with them to grab some for yourself. Failing that, head to any Ottawa Farmers Market location in Ottawa and we’re certain you’ll find more squash than you’ll know what to do with… but we’ve given you some great dishes to start with below. And if you’re not feeling up to cooking, we’ve got a really special Squash and Peanut Soup made using Thirteen: A Social Enterprise’s Pilau Masala (a Kenyan Spice Blend). We sampled it in the shop this week and everyone loved it.

Kabocha Squash

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. Try it in this Kabocha Squash and Sea Buckthorn Chicken Dish.

Butternut Squash

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 relatively sweet taste. To make butternut squash easier to handle, cut the neck from the body and work with each section separately. Try it in this Simple Roasted Butternut Squash Salad.

Sugar Pumpkin

If your Halloween pumpkin was small and squat, chances are it was a sugar pumpkin. But more than just decorative, sugar pumpkins are prized for their classic pumpkin flavor, as well as for their thick and flesh-packed walls. If you’d like to opt out of canned pumpkin for your baking and make your own purée instead, reach for a sugar pumpkin. Try it in these Rosemary Pumpkin Biscuits.

Sweet Dumpling Squash

This whitish-yellow and green squash is small and compact, making the whole squash the perfect-size bowl for an individual serving. The flesh tastes very much like sweet potato, and the skin is edible is as well. Use sweet dumpling squash in recipes calling for sweet potato or pumpkin.Try it in this Sweet Dumpling Squash with Ras El Hanout and Farro dish.

Spaghetti Squash

Take a fork to the inside of a cooked spaghetti squash, and you’ll understand how this variety got its name. By scraping the flesh, you’ll get “strings” that closely resemble noodles. If you’re in search of a healthy pasta alternative, try this very mild-tasting squash. Try it in this Spaghetti Squash Lasagna.

Delicata Squash

This particular winter squash, with its pale yellow shading, most closely resembles its summer squash cousins. 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 it’s got an earthier flavour. Try it in this Roasted Delicata Squash with Chilies, Lime and Cilantro dish.

Buttercup Squash

Compact and green with paler green striations, the buttercup looks a lot like a kabocha squash but has a very distinctive bottom with a circular ridge to differentiate it. A fresh cut buttercup may smell like a clean, fragrant cucumber, but once cooked, its orange flesh becomes dense, a bit dry, and very mild in flavour. Try it in this Veggie Stuffed Buttercup Squash dish.

Acorn Squash

This mild flavored squash is named for its acornlike shape and can be found in most any grocery store and many markets during late summer and fall harvest time. Choose one with a dull green rind; an acorn squash that’s turned orange will have tough and fibrous flesh. Try it in this Avocado and Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash dish.