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Quick Guide to Winter Squash

The most delicious foods are waiting for you this season, and we’re here to help you discover them. Through mid-November we’re featuring must-have information on the season’s best ingredients and dishes — winter squash, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, stuffing and pies! — to help you plan the tastiest celebrations and everyday meals.

Selecting
Winter squash — also known as hard squash — are available in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. Choose winter squash that are firm, heavy for their size, and that have hard, tough skin with no cuts, punctures, sunken spots or mold. A tender rind indicates immaturity, an undesirable in winter squash.

New to winter squash? Start with one of the most popular:

  • Acorn — small, deep green or pumpkin-colored with a mild sweetness
  • Butternut — orange, peanut-shaped with a nutty sweetness
  • Pumpkin Pie — medium to dark orange with a tender, succulent flesh
  • Spaghetti Squash — yellow or orange oblong-shaped with a creamy slightly crunchy texture

Storing

Winter squash can be stored at room temperature in a cool, dry place for a month or more. With their unusual shapes and varied colors they make beautiful table decorations before you use them in recipes. After cutting, store the squash in an airtight container or wrap tightly and refrigerate.

Preparing


Butternut Squash and Kale Salad

Hard winter squash can be intimidating, but they are actually simple to prepare, as well as satisfying, nutritious and affordable. Similar preparation and cooking methods can be employed for most types of winter squash.

  • Peeling: Use a vegetable peeler to peel squash if needed when planning for cubed squash, or just keep the peel on until after it bakes for ease. Tip: delicata squash has a thin, edible skin.
  • Cutting: Do this part carefully using a chef’s knife. For butternut squash, cut the “neck” of the squash off, then cut the bulbous base in half to scoop out the seeds. For round winter squash, such as pumpkin or kabocha, use the point of a knife to cut into and down one side then carefully turn the squash as you continue to cut all the way through.
  • Baking: Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds and place each half cut side down in 1/2 inch of water.
  • Roasting: Peel and cut it into chunks. Or opt for no prep like in this Easiest Whole Roasted Winter Squash recipe.

Holidays & Everyday

Winter squash is highly versatile. They generally pair well with cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, fennel, brown sugar, maple syrup, black pepper, toasted nuts, raisins, apples, onions and cheese making them a great choice for celebrations and weekday meals.


Pumpkin Pecan Cookies

Here are six ways to make the most of winter squash:

  1. Salads. Flavorful and packed with nutrition, Butternut Squash and Kale Salad is good eating at its best. Make it a main course by tossing it with chickpeas, black beans or diced baked tofu.
  2. Stuffed squash. Squash is perfect for stuffing with all kinds of flavorful bites from whole grains to bread cubes, mushrooms and other cooked veggies. Harvest Stuffed Acorn Squash relies on a stuffing of cranberries, apples, walnuts and sage to exemplify autumn’s bounty.
  3. Noodles. In search of a healthy pasta alternative? Take a fork to the inside of a cooked spaghetti squash and scrape the flesh for "strings" that closely resemble noodles. Try Spaghetti Squash Marinara with Italian Sausage and Garlic Bread a kid-friendly weeknight meal. 
  4. Soups. Classic Butternut Squash Soup is a classic crowd pleaser. It’s elegant enough for a dinner party and just the thing for a quiet weeknight meal too. Put a spin on it by trying one of the flavorful variations in the recipe such as Apple, Gorgonzola and Almond Butternut Soup.
  5. Dip. With the traditional flavors of hummus – tahini, garlic and lemon juice – this recipe for Butternut Hummus is familiar in flavor, but surprisingly sweet and creamy.
  6. Baked goods. Gifts baked with love — and squash — are always appreciated. Our Health Starts Here® Pumpkin Pecan Cookies will steal the show at a cookie swap or as a gift. Need a pie recipe that wows? Ground pecans serve as the crust for a velvety custard filling in this gluten-free recipe for Butternut Custard Pecan Pie.

Have leftover cooked winter squash? Heat and serve mashed with butter, cinnamon, honey or maple syrup. Add cubes to your favorite soup, stew, or curry or to top a green or grain salad.

Be sure to check out all of our favorite winter squash recipes. And for more seasonal recipe collections, tips and how-tos, visit our holiday guide.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy winter squash?