Squashes come in a multitude of varieties, shapes and colors. In fact, there are over 100 types of squash produced around the world, and they’ve been grown as a crop for thousands of years. They’re highly versatile, delicious and nutritious, and can be used in meals year-round.
There are two main types of squash: summer squash and winter squash. And contrary to what you may believe, squashes are actually fruits, not vegetables, because they start as flowers and contain seeds.
About Summer Squash
Although most squashes — including summer varieties — are available year-round, there’s nothing quite like summer squash when it’s in season. Summer squashes, as the name implies, are harvested in the summertime, before they fully mature. Because of this, their skins are thin and edible, and they can’t be stored for long periods.
Small summer squashes are the most tender; bigger ones can be overly seedy and tough.
Is Squash Nutritious?
Along with having countless uses in recipes, squash is extremely nutritious. Squash is a source of valuable minerals like iron, magnesium and calcium; and important vitamins, especially vitamin C, plus other antioxidants. It’s also a good source of fiber and it’s low in carbohydrates and calories.
Summer Squash Varieties and How to Cook Them
- Zucchini squash: Probably the best-known summer squash variety, this tube-shaped green squash is tender with a mild flavor. Eat raw or steam, grill, saute or use as spiralized “zoodles” in place of pasta.
- Yellow squash: Zucchini’s yellow lookalike, with a taste and texture much like its green cousin. Same uses as zucchini.
- Pattypan squash: Looks like a little yellow flying saucer. Grill them whole, chop and saute, or stuff before baking.
- Crookneck squash: Looks similar to yellow squash but with a longer, curved neck. Best eaten when very fresh or can become overly seedy and no longer tender. Prepare as you would zucchini or yellow squash.
- Other less common summer squashes include tatume, tromboncino and cousa.
Bake with Squash
Squash adds incredible moisture to baked goods like cakes, breads and muffins, and it’s a stellar substitute for pumpkin in pies, cheesecakes and more.
About Winter Squash
Winter squashes are harvested in the fall and winter. Unlike summer squash, winter squashes have thick, tough rinds that protect the fruit from frost. There are a few varieties with a softer, edible skin, but most winter squash is peeled before use. Here are some of the most common types of winter squash.
Winter Squash Varieties and How to Cook Them
- Acorn squash: Dark green, ridged skin sometimes tinged with orange. The bright orange fruit is sweet with a buttery texture. Seed and then prepare roasted, boiled, mashed or pureed for squash soup.
- Butternut squash: Starchier than acorn squash with a potato-like texture and thick, light tan skin. Prepare like acorn squash; it’s especially delicious mashed as a filling for ravioli.
- Buttercup squash: Round and slightly flat with a distinctive cap at the stem end; green with whitish stripes. Best baked to bring out its sweetness.
- Delicata squash: A tube-shaped squash with yellow-ridged skin and greenish to orange stripes. Delicata can be prepared unpeeled. It’s delicious seeded and roasted to bring out its sweet potato-like flavor.
- Hubbard squash: Very large with a very tough skin and sweet fruit that’s perfect for soup, or mashed or pureed.
- Sweet dumpling squash: Small, round, pumpkin-shaped squash with a very pale yellow skin and dark green stripes and flecks. Very sweet and mild. Seed and bake, grill or steam. Can also be stuffed before baking.
- Spaghetti squash: Yellow and oval shaped. After seeding and roasting, the flesh becomes stringy and can be scraped out in spaghetti-like strands and used in place of pasta