The world of squash isn’t such a complicated place
Buttercup: This squash looks like a kabocha, but on the underside there is a telltale “cup” or ridge around the blossom scar. The flavor is mild; the texture is dense.(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Butternut: The best commonly available squash, butternut has a rich nutty flavor and creamy texture.(Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)
Carnival: Carnival looks like a brightly colored acorn squash. It has a nutty flavor and buttery texture.(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Potimarron: This is the French version of Red Kuri. It has a delicate nutty flavor and a firm, fairly dry texture.(Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)
Banana: A gentle giant, Banana squashes can weigh up to 35 pounds. The flavor is rich and nutty and the texture is dense and meaty.(Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)
Fairytale pumpkin: An old French variety, the fairytale has a tough outer rind but a relatively small seed cavity, meaning there’s plenty of sweet, creamy meat.(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Kamo Kamo: A New Zealand native, it is rare in the United States. The flavor is rich with a slight vegetal edge.(Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)
Sweet dumpling: This mini-squash is growing in popularity because of its sweet flavor and soft texture. It can be cooked whole.(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Chirimen: A Japanese squash with a hard, warty shell, Chirimen has a delicate sweet flavor and a creamy texture.(Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)
Spaghetti: Delicately vegetal in flavor, the texture of this squash is so dry and fibrous that when you scrape it with a fork, it comes loose in “spaghetti” strands.(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Rouge Vif d’Etampes: An heirloom French pumpkin, it can grow to more than 30 pounds. It is mildly sweet and moist. It is the same as the Cinderella pumpkin.(Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)
Red kuri: The same as the French heirloom potimarron, it has a delicate nutty flavor and a firm, fairly dry texture.(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Galeuse d’Eysines: A striking French pumpkin, this squash is covered with warty “peanuts”. The flesh is sweet and creamy.(Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)
Delicata: Most winter squash look like pumpkins; the delicata looks more like a brightly colored zucchini. Appearances aside, the flavor is sweet and mildly vegetal, and the texture is creamy.(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Acorn: Acorn is probably the squash most Americans are familiar with. It has a fairly sweet nutty flavor and a fairly creamy texture.(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
White pie pumpkin: This ivory-colored pumpkin is similar to a sugar pie, it’s a manageable size (one pumpkin is roughly enough for a pie) and the flesh is sweet with a buttery texture.(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Fairy: Not often seen, the Fairy squash has a rich, honeyed flavor and dense, velvety flesh.(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Wintery Luxury Pie: This is one of the best pumpkins for pie. The flesh is rich and creamy. “Unequaled table quality” says squash expert Amy Golden.(Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)
Blue Jarrahdale: This Australian pumpkin has a flattened shape and a distinctive blue-gray color. The flavor is mildly sweet and the texture is dense and creamy.(Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)
Sugar pie pumpkin: Another great pie pumpkin, this one comes in manageable 5- to 6-pound sizes. One of the sweetest pumpkins, it also has a buttery texture.(Kirk McKoy, Los Angeles Times)
Blue Hubbard: A great New England variety, Hubbards are mildly sweet with a dense, firm flesh.(Kirk McKoy, Los Angeles Times)
Kabocha: A relatively recent addition to the American staple squash collection, Kabochas have a very sweet flavor and a firm texture.(Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)
Musquèe de Provence: This variety is traditionally sold in wedges in French markets. The flesh is rich, sweet, creamy and dense.(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Turban: Honestly, best used as a centerpiece. The flesh is mild and tends toward stringy.(Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)
Pink pumpkin: This is a new variety that is also called porcelain doll. Though the peel is pale pink, the flesh is deep orange and the flavor is mild and sweet. A network of retailers pledges a donation to breast cancer research for every pumpkin sold.(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Puzzled by the dozens of winter squash varieties in the market this fall? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, even botanists who study them have a hard time deciding which squash belongs to which family and whether golden dumpling is more closely related to delicata or to acorn. Small wonder, as there are at least 350 varieties — and that’s just those commonly grown in North America.
Generally speaking, winter squash are best after they’ve been left to mature fully on the vine. That’s why they have harder shells than summer squash, such as zucchini, and it’s also why they are sweeter and starchier (or, in some cases, stringier).
If you’re of a certain mind, exploring the various far-flung members of the winter squash family can be entertaining. Certainly you’ll rarely find a group of vegetables more varied-looking and yet more consistently beautiful. But for most people — who probably just want to know which types to purée for soup — narrowing the focus is a better idea. If I had to choose three commonly available varieties that were best for eating, they’d be butternut, acorn and kabocha. More varieties are coming to market these days; great ones to experiment with include red kuri, buttercup, delicata and carnival.
Look for squash that have hard, corky stems still attached; that have deep, vibrant colors; and that have a flat, matte-like finish rather than being glossy and shiny. A final trick: Try digging into the shell with your thumbnail; it should be very hard to penetrate.
You can cook squash all kinds of ways, but probably the best general technique is roasting. Cut the squash in half, remove the seeds and place it cut-side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast at 400 degrees until the meat is tender enough that a paring knife slips in easily, about an hour. You can serve this as-is, basted with butter and warm spices, or spooned from the shell to use as you wish. This will work well with almost any kind of winter squash. Thin-skinned squash such as butternut and delicata can be simply sliced thin and roasted, ala Yotam Ottolenghi. The skin can be peeled or not as you wish.
Because choosing winter squash might be confusing, but cooking them is easy.
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