There are many things that make cooking a challenge during the winter, but one of the biggest issues is the lack of fresh ingredients. With the ground frozen and a bitter nip in the air, there are fewer options for produce, particularly if you enjoy buying local.
But one ingredient we can always count on to get us through the winter months is squash. With tough outer skins that shield tender meat from the biting cold temperatures, squash are able to be harvested later in the year, when other plants’ growing seasons have already ended. And that same thick skin that protects the edible inner fruit from the cold also allows it to keep longer, meaning you’ll see squash in grocery stores all winter.
For all they have to offer us, you’d think we’d be extra-informed about different types of squash, but instead, most cooks tend to stick to a relatively small number of varieties that we’re familiar with—like acorn, butternut, zucchini, and pumpkin. But we want to put a stop to that and bring your attention to some less-familiar types of winter squash out there, so that you can add them to your cooking repertoire and have a varied, exciting diet all winter long.
Kabocha is sometimes called Japanese pumpkin, and is an Asian winter squash known for its sweet flavor and strong undercurrent of nutty and earthy elements. The texture is moist and fluffy, and the taste is often compared to chestnuts. We love it in a thick and creamy soup with hints of ginger; nothing better to warm you up on a cold evening!
When it comes to adding variety to a menu, no squash will help you out more than the spaghetti squash, because it can actually be used as a substitute for pasta. If you’re trying to eliminate carbs from your diet, try roasting these in the oven and taking a fork to the tender flesh in the center. The fruit comes away from the skin in ribbon-y strands that are ideal for absorbing a cheese or a sauce, like in these Roasted Spaghetti Squash Lasagna Boats.
3. Sweet Dumpling
(Image: Running to the Kitchen)
As the name suggests, these are small, adorable little gourds with a sweet flesh—sweeter than most other varietals. Because of their size, sweet dumplings are ideal for stuffing and serving individually, but if you want to play up their unique sweetness, try whipping them into a puree with maple and garlic.
This long, slender winter squash has thin, edible skin like its summer cousins, which explains its name, delicata. Its thin skin does make this squash more susceptible to bruising than other varietals, but if you get the timing just right for ripeness, you end up with a soft, creamy texture similar to sweet potato, but with an earthy, umami flavor that makes it capable of standing alone as a side dish. We love it simply cubed and roasted with a rosemary, sage, and cider glaze.
(Image: Society Wellness)
Not to be confused with the more well-known butternut, the buttercup squash is actually more similar in appearance to the kabocha. When raw, it smells clean and mild like a cucumber, but once you cook it, it takes on a pleasing dense and slightly dry texture with a mild, mellow taste, making it a lovely addition to a vegetarian casserole.
(Image: Amy Glaze)
Hubbard is one of the thickest-skinned squash varietals you’ll find, so they’ll keep until the dead of winter with absolutely no problem. They also contain a high level of moisture, with a rich, sweet yellow flesh that requires longer cooking times, but makes them an excellent substitute for pumpkin in an inventive take on a sweet-and-savory pie.
This squash is a combination of acorn and sweet dumpling, which means it perfectly walks the line between sweet and mild. The inner flesh is mellow and almost honeyed, requiring almost no preparation beyond being cut into wedges and baked in the oven—try it with smoked bacon and rosemary for a real treat.
(Image: Midlife in Maine)
This one is named after the fruit for its color and shape, but is still all-squash in the taste department. Banana squash has bright orange, deliciously dense flesh that makes it a perfect substitute for butternut in a hearty beef stew.
The squash family has more to offer than just the usual suspects we’re all accustomed to, so the next time you’re in the grocery store, try not to reach for an old reliable like pumpkin, and instead incorporate a new favorite like one of the varieties listed above. You won’t regret it!