Versatility and abundant flavor are hallmarks of the winter squash. Here, a primer.
Elongated, smooth, and matte with orange flesh; huge, blue, and bumpy like pods for The Body Snatchers; squat and striped like a caliph’s turban—so-called winter squash are a riot of colors and shapes. The term "winter" refers to our usage of them and their keeping qualities, not when they grow. Stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place, these hard-shelled squash are “good keepers.”
In the same vine-growing family as pumpkins and gourds, squash is used for pies, savory casseroles, pasta filling, pancakes, and soups. The sweet, dense flesh responds well to many flavors, seasonings, and spices: Southwestern chilies, Indian curry, New England-style cinnamon, apples, and maple syrup. How to use? Simply cut in halves or pieces and remove fibers and seeds; then bake, microwave, steam, or boil. Keep water to a minimum to avoid losing flavor and nutrients. Acorn and butternut squash frequently are cut in half, baked, and served in the shell.
|Acorn. As its name suggests, this winter squash is shaped like an acorn. It has sweet, slightly fibrous flesh and deep ribbing in its hard, blackish-green or golden-yellow skin. There are now multi-colored varieties as well.|
WHERE TO ENJOY: “We love winter squash,” declares owner Leslie Lampert of Café of Love (38 E Main St, Mount Kisco 914-242-1002). “On our menu you may find acorn squash with butter, mustard, and molasses.” At Half Moon (1 High St, Dobbs Ferry 914-693-4130; harvest2000.com), Chef Vincent Barcelona serves molasses-charred loin of venison with roasted acorn squash and house-made pumpkin gnocchi.
|Spaghetti. When cooked and cracked open, spaghetti squash's golden-yellow, oval rind reveals strands that resemble pasta. Use a fork to rake out the “spaghetti-like” stringy flesh, and enjoy the mild, nut-like flavor with a little butter or with pasta sauces. The most yellow spaghetti squash will be the ripest and best to eat. Cooked spaghetti squash also freezes well.|
WHERE TO ENJOY: Chef Rowe of One in Irvington makes an elegant fall combo: spaghetti squash with roasted lobster and chanterelle mushrooms. Chef/Co-owner Matthew Karp of Plates (121 Myrtle Blvd, Larchmont 914-834-1244; platesonthepark.com) serves spaghetti squash with seared scallops, white navy beans, peas, cabbage, and
|Butternut. Pale, creamy-tan skin, and shaped like a vase, butternut squash tastes somewhat similar to sweet potatoes with a sweet, nutty flavor. The deeper the orange color inside, the riper, drier, and sweeter the squash.|
WHERE TO ENJOY: “One of my most popular dishes on the fall menu is my garden butternut squash-and-sage risotto,” says Harvest's chef Barcelona. Chef Justin Rowe at One (1 Bridge St, Irvington 914-591-2233; restaurantoneny.com) will be serving pomegranate-glazed duck over a winter squash-and-escarole risotto, garnished with pumpkin seeds.
|Hubbard. The extra-hard skin makes these among the best-keeping winter squashes, up to six months in the right cool, humid conditions. They range from big to enormous, have a blue-gray, warty skin, and taper at the ends. Hubbard squash is often sold in pieces because it grows so large. The dense, yellow flesh may require longer cooking time and is a favorite for pies.|
WHERE TO ENJOY: Plates chef Karp roasts Hubbard and all the winter squashes to make sauces, purées, and soups. “Long, slow roasting converts starches stored in this type of vegetable into sugars,” he says. At Café of Love, you may find braised hubbard squash rings with olive oil, cinnamon, and sugar.