The first appearance of hard-skinned squash in farm stands and on seasonal restaurant menus is a well-known harbinger of fall. A favorite seasonal delicacy, they’re members—along with pumpkins and gourds—of the Cucurbitaceae family of fruit. Yes, you read that right. Squash are technically fruit as they have seeds and develop from the flowers of plants, but culinarily we love to treat all varieties like vegetables.
Perhaps that’s because of their versatility. There are dozens of different kinds, each with their own signature flavor and texture. Or maybe it’s due to their good nutritional value, being that they are high in dietary fiber, potassium and vitamins B and C. With all that in mind, take a gander at this guide to popular cold-weather squash that will help you suss out their different physical attributes and gain some recipe inspiration so that you, too, can enjoy them all season.
Green with wide ridges, acorn squash are typically 1-2 pounds and approximately 6 inches long. Their flesh is a pale yellow that has a mild taste and smooth texture and it does well roasted and thrown into a salad over greens with dried currants, walnuts, goat cheese and pepitas or creamed into a soup with a drizzle of spicy chili oil on top.
A clear crowd favorite—butternut squash are prized for their creamy texture and sweet, nutty taste. They brighten any dish thanks to their vibrant orange-gold insides and are also easy to recognize due to their long, large shape and light-beige skin. They often make their way onto the Thanksgiving table roasted with brown sugar or as cream-infused soup, but many don’t realize they can be used in party appetizers, too. Simply cube the peel, roast it, and stack them piece-by-piece on cocktail skewers with pieces of maple bacon and a tiny dollop of crème fraîche. It’s also the most popular kind of squash used for making Pinterest-favorite zoodles.
Delicata used to be harder to find but this variety has been enjoying a rise in popularity in recent years. They’re in the same species as summer squash (yellow and zucchini), and kind of look like monster hybrids of the two—large, oblong and yellow with green stripes in the creases. They tend to be quite sweet with thinner, softer skin, so try mixing roasted cubes of it into a pasta dish with seasonal mushrooms or halving one and stuffing it with turkey chili and cheese before baking.
Kabochas look like small green pumpkins with lighter green mottling on their skin and bright yellow-gold insides that are super-sweet—usually even sweeter than Butternut. Try cubing and roasting one on a sheet pan with brussels sprouts in a maple glaze before topping the mixture with pomegranate seeds, or scoop out the insides and stuff it with rice, mushrooms, walnuts, dried cranberries and sage before it baking it whole.
Egg-shaped and pale-to-bright yellow on the outside, spaghetti squash is another variety that’s become more popular over the past few seasons. It’s another popular variety used for zoodles, but it differs from butternut in two important qualities: It’s much milder in flavor and you don’t need a spiralizer to turn it into squash “pasta.” Spaghetti squash gets its name from its stringy inside, so all you have to do is bake it and scrape out its insides before tossing it with Parmesan cheese, herbs and olive oil for a low-carb substitution on pasta night.