Kabocha: The King of Winter Squashes

Is a squash just a squash? Not when it comes to winter squashes, Chowhounds say. Season, age, and variety all help determine whether the cooked flesh will be watery and bland or sweet, dense, and delicious. Butternut is the best-known and most widely used type, but not the first choice of many hounds. That honor goes to kabocha, the flesh of which cooks up drier and with more flavor. "I only discovered kabochas a couple of years ago and have not bought butternut since," greygarious says. "I have never had a bad kabocha."

Kabochas have a thinner skin than other squashes, and if you leave it on it will peel away easily after cooking, or you can even eat it. Baked, the kabocha tastes like a cross between butternut and sweet potato, greygarious says. It's flavorful enough to eat plain, paulj says, but for special occasions, he cuts the top off, cleans the interior, stuffs it with bread, ham, cheese, and cream, and bakes it whole.

A just-picked winter squash can be bland, but will improve after a few weeks of storage. They store extremely well at room temperature through the cooler months, according to morwen, who grows and stores many types. "They like the same storage temps you do," she says: 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. To choose squash for storage, she recommends selecting ones with skins that are tough to puncture with a thumbnail and have about an inch of stem at the top, and says these have matured and "cured" properly for long keeping. The skins of stored squashes may change color (for instance, from green to orange), morwen says, but as long as they are firm, they're still good to eat. Don't wash them before storage or you'll remove some of the natural protective film that helps prolong their life.

Discuss: Butternut squash!