General Description: Winter squash is the American name for numerous varieties of hard-skinned squash of Central and South American origin in the genus Cucurbita. The word “squash” is derived from the Algonguian word askutasquash, something that is eaten green, or in an unripe state, like summer squash. When we say squash, we usually mean winter squash—such as butternut, acorn, or spaghetti squash—which have a hard, inedible peel. Summer squashes are entirely edible. The difference is also apparent in the seeds. Winter squashes have large, tough-skinned seeds that are edible only if roasted and shelled.
Some of the major winter squash species are Cucurbita maxima, which includes varieties such as Hubbard, blue and red kuri, and buttercup; Cucurbita moschata, which includes butternut, winter crookneck, some pumpkins, and calabaza; Cucurbita pepo, which includes acorn, spaghetti, and pumpkin; and Cucurbita argyrosperma (or mixta), which includes the golden striped and green striped cushaw.
Acorn squash, which may be buff-colored, orange, or dark green, is the most widely available small winter squash. It has smooth, sweet flesh that is rather stringy; buff varieties have the most concentrated flavor.
Buttercup squash are stocky in shape with a turban top that enlarges as the squash matures. Many people consider buttercup to be the best hard squash. When bake, the fine, dry flesh is smooth and tastes of roasted chestnuts and sweet potato.
Butternut squash is the most common all-purpose squash because of its abundant, firm flesh. It has a thick neck attached to a bulbous bottom and smooth buff skin. The meat of the butternut is a blazing orange and it has a creamy texture once cooked.
Calabaza is a general name for warm-climate pumpkins. In the U.S., calabaza has become the name for a round or pear-shaped large squash with mottled skin that may be deep green, orange, amber, or buff and speckled or striated, but always relatively smooth and hard-shelled when mature. Calabaza is often sold in large chucks. Unlike other pumpkins, it is grown primarily in warm climates and is available year-round.
Delicata is an old variety that has been revived. Petite to medium in size, this oblong squash has yellow-ivory skin with spruce green stripes inside the ridges. The light, sweet, yellow flesh is fine and moist. It will not keep for long because of its relatively thin skin.
Green striped cushaw is a longtime gardener’s favorite and often shows up at farmers’ markets. It has a bulbous bottom and thin neck with relatively thin skin and moist, rather coarse flesh.
Hubbard is a term for a group of large to huge squash that may be bluish, gray, orange, dark green, or light green and are mostly teardrop or top-shaped.
Jarahdale pumpkin is an Australian cultivar that looks like a small “classic” pumpkin with heavily lobed sides but has a celadon green skin. Its deep orange flesh is extremely smooth and creamy.
Kabocha is both a generic grouping and a marketing name in the U.S. applied to many strains of Japanese pumpkin and winter squash with fine flavor, rich sweetness, and dense, almost fiberless flesh. Varieties include Delicata and green and orange Hokkaido (with rough mottled skin). They all have deep flavor, honeyed sweetness, and fine-grained, extremely dense flesh. Kuri, or orange Hokkaido, are teardrop-shaped Japanese squash. They have smooth, deep red skin and deep yellow flesh and are similar to golden Hubbards.
Pumpkin is a term applied to nearly all hard-skinned squash. What is considered “pumpkin” changes from country to country and region to region. In the U.S. the term generally means a large rounded orange squash of the type used for jack-o’-lanterns. Miniature pumpkins are cream or orange in color with sweet, firm, flavorful flesh. Some may have edible skin.
Spaghetti squash is grown specifically for its prominent fibers. It is usually golden yellow in color with a lightly sweet, mild flavor and a thin hard shell. The larger the squash, the thicker the strands, which may be steamed and dressed like pasta.
Sweet Dumpling squash is a Japanese variety that is solid and plump. It is warm cream in color with ivy green stripes inside the ridges. The sweet, pale yellow flesh is fine and dry textured like a potato.
Season: September and October are the best months for squash. Squash grown in colder areas will have more flavor and sweetness than quicker growing squash from warmer areas. Most squash is available year-round.
Purchase: Choose rock-solid squash. Press as hard as you can to make sure there is no give. Look for firm, full, corklike, rather than skinny or green, stems. Choose squash with matte rather than shiny skin. Choose large butternuts with a relatively small bottom and a long neck. This neck portion contains solid meat without any seeds making it easy to cut up.
Avoid: Do not purchase squash with soft spots or bruises.
Storage: Keep in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. Thick-skinned varieties can last for months. The soft, moist flesh surrounding the seedpod will deteriorate quickest. If that area is mushy, you’ve stored your squash too long. However, the “neck” area will probably still be firm and usable.
- Wash any winter squash in cool water
- If the skin is thin, peel it using a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife prior to cutting into pieces or baking.
- If the squash has thick skin, it is generally cut in half and baked with the skin on. After cutting in half, scoop the seeds with a spoon.
Serving Suggestions: Bake squash topped with brown sugar or maple syrup and a pat of butter in the empty seed cavity. Shred squash and mix with an equal amount of standard pancake batter, then cook these savory pancakes on a griddle and top with salsa, tomato sauce, or sour cream. Fry cut, peeled raw hard squash in a tempura batter. Add cubes of squash to braised lamb shanks, beef stew, or chicken 15 minutes before the meat is done.
Food Affinities: Butter, couscous, garlic, honey, lamb, maple syrup, olive oil, onion, pasta, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com