I've eaten my way through most of the squash alphabet, starting with "acorn" and "butternut" and working my way down to "spaghetti" and "turban." I've also sliced, peeled, and hacked my way into them. It's sometimes a challenge, and other times downright dangerous (but I still have all my fingers, so I've got that going for me). I've found a couple of things:
- most squashes are interchangeable in recipes
- most squashes are hard to cut
- all squashes can be cooked the same way, if recipes escape you: slice them in half, scoop out the seeds, place cut side down on a baking sheet, bake at 350 degrees until tender
Once the baked squash comes out of the oven, you can add butter and sugar, maybe nutmeg and cinnamon, for a sweet side dish; or fill with something savory, like lentils or rice pilaf. I love Indian and North African spices with squash; cumin, coriander, cloves, cayenne or chipotle pepper, ginger. I think squash is delicious, but I stay away from the big ones unless I'm making pies or soup for a crowd.
I divide squashes into three categories: those that are small enough to bake, stuff, and eat in a few servings; those that are best for chopping and including in soups, purees, or pies; and those which are best for decorative or textural value, but whose taste leaves something to be desired.Small, tasty stuffing squashes:
- Acorn. Grab your sharpest knife, the skin on these green acorn-shaped squashes is hard to pierce. But once you get in, you'll find sweet, slightly fibrous flesh.
- Buttercup or Ambercup. The buttercup is dark green, and shaped like a squashed pear. The Ambercup looks like a small, bright-orange pumpkin. They're both quite sweet and could be used for purees. They're hard to cut, as well.
- Carnival and Sweet Dumpling. These are good for decor, too, as they're pretty - mostly cream-colored with green stripes and mottles; the carnival variety have orange speckles, too. Their looks are better than their taste.
- Butternut squash. This is the princess of winter squash thanks to its relatively thin skin and good shape for cutting into handy cubes. The flesh is sweet and smooth.
- Delicata squash. It looks like a grown-up zucchini with its long shape and creamy-green striped skin. It tastes very similar to the sweet potato.
- Hubbard squash. Big and unwieldy, you'll really have to hack your way in. But the taste is one of the best of the squash family.
- Kabocha. Not so warty as the hubbard, but otherwise very similar. The flesh is the least fibrous, so it's fantastic in purees.
- Spaghetti squash. I don't know how many times I've heard or read someone raving about how versatile the spaghetti squash is, because it acts like spaghetti, but has the nutritional profile of a squash. I don't get it. The texture is terrible - it's so fibrous, and nowhere near the satisfying mouth feel of spaghetti. The taste: squashy. It's not spaghetti, people. OK?
- Turban squash. Beautiful, gorgeous, these squash make me happy. I'll take photos of them all day long. But the effort of cutting into them isn't worth it. There's lots of boring flesh inside that lovely, thick skin. Leave it in the centerpiece.