There are many varieties of winter squash, you can rest assured they’re all sweet, dense, and packed with fiber, and they can all be enjoyed in both sweet and savory dishes.
If you want to try your hand at squash but are intimidated by the sheer number and varieties available to choose from, you’ve come to the right place. We’re breaking down the winter squash family into the six most popular kinds, and then highlighting recipes for each of them.
1. Butternut squash
Butternut squash is quite possibly the most popular variety of winter squash, and for good reason. As its name suggests, the gourd is buttery and sweet, and even better, it’s a nutrient powerhouse thanks to its high fiber and vitamin content, and its low calorie count. Nutrition Data reports that 1 cup yields just 82 calories. Though many consumers are intimidated by the gourd’s distinctive bell shape, as long as you have a sharp knife and some patience, you’re guaranteed to reap the benefits of your labor.
Butternut squash is typically enjoyed in savory dishes like soups, stews, and salads, but also sweet treats, too. Here’s a recipe for a Chickpea and Butternut Squash Stew from Martha Stewart to get you started. This seasonal hearty dish is delicious and nutritious.
- 1 medium butternut squash, cut into 1½-inch irregularly shaped pieces (about 6 cups)
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 medium onions, chopped (about 2½ cups)
- 8 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley stems
- 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 3 medium carrots, cut into ¾-inch cubes or irregular shapes
- 2½ cups cooked chickpeas, either from dry beans or from 2 (15-ounce) cans
- 1 can crushed tomatoes (28 ounces)
- 4 teaspoons harissa, or more to taste
- ½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place squash on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Drizzle with 1½ tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss well and roast until golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes. In a large skillet or pot, warm remaining 1½ tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in parsley stems, cumin, and paprika, and cook for 1 minute. Add carrots and 1 cup chickpea cooking liquid (or water, if using canned chickpeas) to onion mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until carrots are tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
Add tomatoes and chickpeas. Raise heat to medium-high and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in harissa paste, chopped parsley leaves, roasted squash, and remaining ½ cup chickpea cooking liquid (or water). Simmer, uncovered, until flavors meld, another 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
2. Kabocha squash
Kabocha squash is up next, because it, too, is a favorite during the colder fall and winter months. Kabocha is similar to butternut in that it’s nutty and comes protected by a hard skin; however, it’s even sweeter tasting than butternut, and is also sometimes referred to as a Japanese pumpkin, as highlighted by Japanese Cooking 101. Here’s a simple recipe for Roasted Kabocha Squash with Cumin Salt from Self via Epicurious. Note: Many foodies like their kabocha so much that they think it’s a sin to eat it any other way than plain.
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted 1 minute in a dry skillet
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika or regular paprika
- 2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 kabocha squash (about 2½ pounds), partially peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Directions: Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine cumin seeds with bay leaf and paprika in a spice mill or clean coffee grinder and process briefly. Add sugar and salt and process to combine. Set aside. Toss squash with oil, then cumin mixture. Spread on 2 baking sheets and roast until tender, about 25 minutes.
3. Spaghetti squash
Up at our number three spot is spaghetti squash, and this vegetable is definitely different than the two other varieties we have highlighted so far on our list. Spaghetti squash is truly a gift from the gods, because the seed-bearing squash variety is an appetizing substitute for real spaghetti (as its name suggests), and it’s unbelievably low in calories. One cup of the squash yields just 41 calories, according to Nutrition Data. The oblong shaped gourd might initially seem hard to work with, but we promise it’ll all be worth it. Try this Spaghetti Squash with Meat Ragu recipe from Skinny Taste and see for yourself. Dare we say that you’ll never go back to the carby, calorie-packed pasta?
- 8 cups cooked spaghetti squash (from 2 medium-size squash, about 6 pounds total)
- salt and fresh pepper, to taste
- 1 tsp butter
- 1 tsp olive oil
- ½ onion, finely chopped (4 ounces)
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 1 pound 95% lean beef
- 1 (28-ounce) can of crushed tomatoes
- ¼ cup white wine
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and fresh pepper, to taste
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and membrane. Season with salt and bake about 1 hour, or longer if needed on a baking sheet, cut side up.
In a large deep sauté pan, melt butter and add oil. Add onions, celery and carrots and sauté on medium-low for about 3 to 4 minutes, until soft. Add the beef and season with salt. Brown the meat and cook, breaking it into smaller pieces with your spoon until cooked trhough. When cooked, add the tomatoes and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Add wine and simmer until it reduces a bit, then add bay leaf and cover, reducing heat to low. Simmer at least an hour, stirring occasionally.
When spaghetti squash is cooked, let it cool for about 10 minutes. When cool, use a fork to remove flesh, which will come out in spaghetti looking strands. Keep covered and set aside keeping warm until sauce is ready. Serve topped with meat sauce and grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.
4. Sugar pumpkin
The sugar pumpkin is next, and yes, you can eat it. Its sweet flesh is the star ingredient in many soup and stew recipes, and also pumpkin pies. While large pumpkins come packed with unappetizing stringy strands of flesh, sugar pumpkins have insides that are easier to work with, and it’s there you can find the sweet flesh that will later get pureed into sweet and savory dishes. Here’s a recipe for Sugar Pumpkin Soup with Chipotle Cream from Food Network. Pumpkins aren’t only for carving – they’re also for slurping!
- 1 medium pumpkin, about 4 pounds
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 slices bacon, diced
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 6 cups chicken stock
- ½ cup heavy cream, plus 1 cup for garnish
- ¼ cup orange juice
- Large pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Whole leaves flat-leaf parsley, as a garnish
- 1 tablespoon chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
Directions: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Halve the pumpkin from top to bottom and place it, cut side down, on an oiled baking sheet. Bake until the pumpkin can be easily skewered, 45 to 60 minutes. Cool for about 20 minutes. With a spoon, remove the seeds and discard. Scrape the pulp and reserve. Discard the skin. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon of the butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and the bacon is just turning golden, about 7 minutes. Add the pumpkin and stock and simmer until the pumpkin falls apart, about 30 minutes. Let cool for about 20 minutes.
In batches, puree the soup in a blender on high speed, 3 minutes per batch, until very smooth. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a clean soup pot and add the cream, orange juice, and nutmeg. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Chop 1 tablespoon chipotle pepper. Whip 1 cup cream to soft peak. Stir peppers into cream.
5. Delicata squash
This pale yellow winter squash is next, and it shouldn’t be confused with its summer cousins that look similar. Delicata squash is smaller and has a softer texture than the other squash on our list, but it still possesses the iconic sweet, nutty flavor that most winter squash boast, and it’s also packed with vitamins and fiber. Even better, according to Live Strong, it packs zero grams of fat. So, if you’re in the mood for sweet squash, but don’t want to deal with the hard exterior of the butternut or kabocha varieties, go for delicate and try this recipe for Delicata Squash with Rosemary, Sage, and Cider Glaze from The Herbfarm Cookbook via Epicurious. The dish is simple and sweet, but also healthy and sophisticated.
- 2 medium delicata squash (about 2 pounds)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ cup very coarsely chopped fresh sage
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1½ cups fresh unfiltered apple cider or juice
- 1 cup water
- 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Directions: Peel delicata squash with a vegetable peeler, cut it lengthwise in half, and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Cut each piece lengthwise in half again, then crosswise into ½-inch-thick slices.
For herb butter: Melt the butter in a large (12-inch) skillet over low heat. Add the sage and rosemary and cook, stirring, until the butter just begins to turn golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Do not brown the herbs. Cooking the herbs in butter mellows their flavor and improves their texture.
For cooking the squash: Add the squash to the skillet, then the apple cider, water, vinegar, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat at an even boil until the cider has boiled down to a glaze and the squash is tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Taste and season with pepper, add more salt if needed.
6. Acorn squash
Last but not least: Acorn Squash. Yes, this winter squash is in fact more than a decoration. It’s delicious and nutritious, and its sweet flesh can be eaten in a variety of ways. Regardless of whether you want to go the easy route and simply eat the insides of your squash after roasting it, or you’d rather go big with something like this recipe for Spinach and Acorn Squash “Ravioli” from Real Simple, just make sure you have your acorn squash this season and eat it, too, because this is one sweet treat you can feel good about consuming.
- ¼ cup ricotta cheese
- 5 ounces frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- ½ acorn squash, seeds discarded and cut into ½-inch slices
- ¼ cup sour cream
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 8 sage leaves
- 1½ cups vegetable broth
- 16 wonton wrappers
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
Directions: Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the squash on a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil and ¼ teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Roast until just tender, tossing occasionally, about 40 minutes. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, spinach, salt, and pepper and mix well. In another bowl, stir the squash, sour cream, and nutmeg together.
In a skillet, over medium heat, heat the butter. Add the sage and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the broth, simmer 5 minutes, and set aside. Lay out 16 wonton wrappers. Divide the spinach mixture among 8 wrappers, placing a dollop in the center of each. Fold them in half diagonally, pinching one corner to close. Repeat with the squash mixture and the remaining 8 wrappers. Place the 16 packets in a roasting pan and spoon the broth over them. Cover with foil and heat in the oven until warmed through, 10 to 15 minutes.