One Ingredient: Winter Squash—and Pumpkins

PHOTOS BY KATIE NOBLE / STYLED BY CATRINE KELTY

It’s September—have you been dazzled yet by the pumpkin and squash display at your local farm stand? In a dizzying array of colors and shapes, heirloom squash has taken New England autumn by storm.

Many are sold as “decorative gourds,” but don’t be fooled: Even the most enormous variety is edible and will store extremely well, into the winter and beyond. Decorate to your heart’s content, but bring these beauties inside before they become squirrel food or a slumpy, sludgy mess on the front stoop. What a shame to waste one of the most delicious and versatile autumnal foods!

Here’s a quick primer on what you’ll find at the farm and how to prepare them, followed by five recipes to inspire your cooking throughout the cool season. Some varieties are sweeter than others, but most squash and pumpkins are fairly interchangeable in any recipe—so feel free to use Kuri in your pie, Turban in your soup, Fairytale in your salad or Kabocha in your pasta. Just arm yourself with a sharp knife, a good peeler, a mallet to get through the big ones and always save the seeds for roasting.

Small
SUGAR PUMPKIN—the classic for pie, also cute on the holiday table. Roast the flesh, scoop and purée it until very smooth. Cooked purée freezes well in zip-top bags, ready to add to muffins, cakes, custards or soups.

HONEYNUT SQUASH—a new hybrid, like a tiny, sweet Butternut. Halve and seed them, then roast with plenty of butter and spices. Make a whole platter and shower with toasted nuts and chopped herbs.

SWEET DUMPLING—an adorable single-serve squash, try them roasted and filled with heirloom grains, rice or even ricotta, beaten eggs and Parmigiano Reggiano. Thin-skinned, so no need to peel—you can eat the whole thing.

ACORN SQUASH—a delicate, deep green, ridged little cup, with mild flavor and lighter-colored flesh than most. Well-suited to butter-and-sugar roasting; the thick skin acts like an edible bowl.

BUTTERCUP—sweet and dense; trim the cap off, seed and roast them whole filled with cream, Alpine cheese, garlic and caramelized onions; when very soft and browned, scrape the flesh into the filling and serve spread on toast.

DELICATA—keep the skin on and slice into rings; toss with olive oil and salt before roasting until crisp on the outside, sweet and creamy inside. Dunk in garlicky aioli like sweet potato fries.

Medium
BUTTERNUT—there’s a reason it’s the most recognized squash and grown year-round: This squash is a workhorse. Easy to peel but just as easy to buy it already cut up to save time. Add to chili, soup or stews all winter long, but also nice sweetened with maple and warm spices. Our favorite? Cubed, tossed with olive oil, cumin, Aleppo pepper, a pinch of cinnamon and plenty of salt, roasted until deeply caramelized—then devoured straight from the pan.

RED KURI/HOKKAIDO PUMPKIN—a pear-shaped Japanese squash with thin skin and deeply tasty flesh. Chop and roast or steam for smooth soups and purées; if roasting, no need to peel.

CALABAZA—smooth and round with beige mottled skin, season this squash with Mexican flavors: Try it as the base of a vegetarian tostada, showered liberally with lime, cilantro and crumbly fresh cheese. Or stew it with dried beans and corn for a fall celebration of the Native American “three sisters.”

KABOCHA—another Japanese variety, this green pumpkin boasts deep yellow flesh, a remarkable sweetness and density akin to a sweet potato. Try it thinly sliced and tempura-fried—skin and all—to dunk in soy-ginger sauce; roast it for salads or mash into hummus.

TURBAN SQUASH—one of the prettiest varieties, striped orange and green, shaped like a little hat. Dense and floury flesh makes this squash perfect for long storage. Buy in the fall, use in early spring!

Large to extra-large
ROUGE VIF D’ETAMPES/CINDARELLA PUMPKIN—like Cinderella’s carriage, this enormous, bright-red squash is a mainstay in the “decorative gourd” bin, but it makes for delicious eating, too. Use what you need, then freeze the rest. A good candidate for pumpkin jam, as the flesh is stringless and sweet; just steam, purée and stew with sugar and spices.

MARINA DI CHIOGGIA—bright green and lumpy, this sweet Italian variety may be difficult to cut but well worth the effort. Try it roasted and stirred into risotto, or mashed and layered into lasagna with mascarpone and sage.

FAIRYTALE PUMPKIN/MUSQUEE DE PROVENCE—this huge French variety ranges from burnished brown to light pink in color and is often sold cut into wedges. Its deeply orange flesh and smooth texture suit it well for pie, but roasting or grilling the wedges with olive oil and salt shows off its distinct sweetness.

PEANUT PUMPKIN/GALEAUX D’EYSINES—nearly always sold as a novelty pumpkin, this sweet number is one of the best eating squashes out there. Covered with lumpy peanut shell-like protrusions, it’s the absolute best for desserts. Put it on your stoop for Halloween but save it from the vermin; then store in a cool, dry place until it’s time to make pie.

JARRAHDALE/AUSTRALIAN BLUE PUMPKIN—ranging from light grey-blue to deep blue-green, these boast a huge flesh-to-seeds ratio, making them one of the most prized eating squashes. The easiest way to cook one? Cut it in half, scoop out its seeds and roast it cut side down until slumped and soft all the way through. Use in any recipe for squash purée.

LONG ISLAND CHEESE PUMPKIN—an American native, this salmon-hued beauty was the first commercial pie pumpkin bred for its mild flavor and smooth flesh. Not “cheesy” in the slightest, but so named for its wheel-of-cheese shape. Best in baked goods, custards, soups and stews.

BLUE OR RED HUBBARD—huge, unwieldy and difficult to cut through, but it’s that thick skin that makes Hubbards perfect for long storage. With bright yellow-orange flesh that lends well to both sweet and savory recipes, this is a favorite in Massachusetts, cultivated in Marblehead after being brought from the West Indies on a sailing sloop.  

Sarah Blackburn is a home cook, recipe developer, soccer mom, Italophile and managing editor at Edible Boston. She can be reached at sarah@edibleboston.com.