The term “winter squash” encompasses a staggering array of hard-skinned squash varieties that are best from early fall through winter. Their flesh is usually yellow to deep-orange, with a starchy consistency that turns creamy and sweet when cooked. Out of the hundreds of varieties, each has its own unique flavor and ideal uses; a few top our list for versatility and availability. Dark green- and orange-skinned acorn squash has a tender golden interior that makes a candy-sweet, creamy purée; butternut squash’s sweet, easy-to-peel flesh lends itself brilliantly to pie filling; diminutive delicata, with its thin, edible skin, is wonderful sliced and sautéed in a little butter; and roasted sliced spaghetti squash has a light flavor and texture that’s perfect topped with walnut-miso glaze. Where pumpkins are concerned, we’re partial to the small, spherical winter luxury pie variety, which makes a wonderfully silky pie filling; jarrahdale, with its tough orange flesh that makes a purée as sweet and luscious as mashed sweet potatoes; and Dickinson, a beige, football-shaped variety with a honeyed flavor.
HOW TO BUY
Choose very hard squash that does not give when pressed. Skin should be deeply colored, relatively dull in appearance, and should not be easily nicked or scraped off.
HOW TO STORE
Thanks to its thick, hard skin, whole winter squash can be stored in a cool, dark place for several weeks. Cut, raw squash will keep, refrigerated, for a few days.
HOW TO PREPARE
If cooking whole, squash needs little more than a good scrub. For other preparations, remove the skin: Cut the bottom of the squash so it’s level, then remove the outer layer from top to bottom with a sharp knife. Slice in half, scoop out the seeds, and cut into slices or cubes for cooking.