The world of squash is a fascinating one. There are just so many types of squash that exist and they vary tremendously in size, shape, and color, regardless of the season. Crates loaded with striking varieties will stop you in your tracks, and it seems that every farmer’s market stroll leads to a new discovery begging to be taken home. There are so many beautiful and tasty types of squash to choose from that it might be overwhelming to pick during your weekly shopping trip. Surely you cook with zucchini in the summer and keep butternut squash on rotation in cooler months, but there are so many more versatile squash varieties to cook with, in addition to those VIPs.
Squash is typically divided into two categories: summer and winter squash. Summer squash has thin, edible skin with soft seeds, and its flesh is tender with a high water content. It cooks quickly and has a mild flavor, even a buttery texture. The most popular varieties are crookneck, pattypan, and zucchini, although you might see eight-ball squash and zephyr throughout the summer at greenmarkets. Zucchini, both green and yellow, are available year-round at the grocery store, but like all other varieties of summer squash, it’s best from early to late summer.
Winter squash has hard, thick skin and seeds. The vibrant flesh is firm and requires a longer cooking time than summer squash. More commonly known varieties are acorn, butternut, delicata, kabocha, pumpkin, and spaghetti squash. There are other types of winter squash that might be more accessible at greenmarkets versus the grocery store, such as hubbard, honeynut, kuri, and buttercup, and they are available during the early fall through winter peak season, along with the rest of the winter squash crew. The most popular winter squash types, such as acorn, butternut, and spaghetti, can usually be found at grocery stores year-round. And don’t be fooled by the category name, winter squash is actually harvested in late summer-early fall and stored throughout the winter months.
Now keep this handy guide close to empower you with all the information you need on summer and winter squash so you’re not missing out on the wide range available throughout the year.
Winter squash includes popular varieties such as acorn, delicata, and butternut. Use it for soups, stuff it, and more.
This stunner, with its mesmerizing dark green skin, is mild in flavor and has a creamy, tender flesh. The thick skin is not worth peeling since, once cooked, the flesh separates easily from the skin and can be eaten directly from the shell. The most popular preparation is halving the squash, removing the seeds, and then roasting cut-side down, or stuffing and baking, like in this weeknight-friendly Goat Cheese and Mushroom–Stuffed Acorn Squash. It’s also common to slice into wedges and roast, simply seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Look out for other types of acorn squash such as orange/golden or white. They’re mighty pretty!
A favorite for a reason, this go-to winter squash is widely available and easy to handle. Cut the neck from the rounded bottom for easy prep, and work with the two parts separately. It’s best enjoyed peeled, halved, and seeded, and then roasted, simmered, or steamed. Butternut squash not only makes a great soup or a star veg tossed in a medley of roasted vegetables, but it also makes for a stellar pasta sauce. Its orange flesh is sweet, but plays nicely with a range of flavors and spices. This punchy Ginger-Coconut Pork With Butternut Squash made in a slow-cooker is proof. Don’t mistake buttercup squash for butternut. Buttercup squash has green skin, and it is squat and compact. Its orange flesh is mild when cooked, but dry and fares better when boiled or steamed.
Like a work of art, this oval winter squash with pale yellow skin and green stripes has a mild, golden flesh that tastes like sweet potato and butternut squash had a baby. The peak season for delicate squash is from late summer through late fall. It’s the most perishable winter squash of the bunch due to its thin, yet edible skin. Delicata squash doesn’t just capture everyone’s attention before cooking, but slicing it crosswise before roasting, searing, or steaming shows off its scalloped edges and is guaranteed to steal the show. Fold the rings into a creamy pasta recipe, or layer it with winter greens, nuts, and cheese in a salad. Fun fact: sweet dumpling squash is the same type of squash but with a squat and round shape.
This hybrid of butternut and buttercup squash is a relatively new breed of winter squash. It looks like a mini butternut squash, but with darker, orange skin, and a sweeter, more concentrated flavor. Cook it just like you would butternut squash but note that it favors roasting, as that cooking method enhances its nutty sweetness. Simply slice in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of cinnamon or ground coriander (or both!). After roasting, hit it with a bit of cayenne pepper and a drizzle of maple syrup. Eating squash with the skin on is a matter of personal preference, but the skin of honeynut squash is thin enough so that it doesn’t have to be peeled, and it is edible. Find this cutie of a squash at grocery stores and farmer’s markets from September through December. Hint: it makes for a gorgeous holiday side or veggie main.
One of the largest winter varieties, Hubbard squash can weigh up to 20 pounds and ranges in color from bright orange to grayish-blue, and even dark green. However, shop for a squash no more than four pounds, as it’s best for cooking. Hidden beneath the hard, bumpy skin (this is what helps it keep for so long– up to eight months!) is a sweet yellow-orange flesh. The flesh is high in sugar but sometimes mealy, which means it’s best mashed (as a pie filling) or mashed. It’s available from early September to March. Red kuri is another Hubbard variety with a starchy flesh and distinct chestnut-like flavor. It’s considerably smaller than Hubbard squash and much more manageable to peel.
Also known as Japanese pumpkin, this winter squash with a green rind and lighter green streaks has an earthy nuttiness, it’s only mildly sweet, and has a subtle starchy yet smooth texture. On average, most weigh between two and three pounds, but can weigh as much as a whopping eight pounds. Cook green kabocha like acorn squash—steam, or braise it—it absorbs flavors incredibly well. The skin is edible, albeit tough looking, but be sure to halve and seed the squash. Kabocha squash lends well to both savory and sweet recipes: Try wedges of kabocha squash seared and simmered in an umami-bursting soy and mirin sauce or in these delectable sticky buns.
This winter squash that is now available year-round is the most fun one of the bunch. After cooking, its mild and pale flesh turns into spaghetti-like strands when scraped with a fork. Some home cooks love to use this squash as a substitute for pasta, and it’s in fact delicious. Try this recipe for Spaghetti Squash Parmesan and you’ll be a convert. Or try a cacio e pepe version by tossing the strands with butter and lots of grated pecorino and freshly ground black pepper.
This variety of pumpkin is a member of the gourd family, which actually includes all other varieties of squash as well. It’s great for baking, and its flesh is creamy and sweet. Not only is it a flavorful pick, but its skin is easier to peel than larger varieties. Reach for smaller ones up to five pounds, and make your own mash for your favorite pumpkin pie recipe. Or go savory and use it in stews and soups. This Pumpkin-Leek Soup is a classic. Skip the orange pumpkin that you’re more likely to pick up for decorative carving purposes, as its flesh is bland and stringy.
Generally lighter and more delicate than their cold-weather counterparts, summer squash varieties thrive in salads, summery pasta dishes, and have no problem acting as a healthy pizza topping.
Bountiful in the summertime and available year-round, both green and yellow zucchini are versatile summer squash that are tender and mild in flavor. Their shelf-life is shorter than winter squash, and so is the cooking time. There is no need to peel the smooth skin, and zucchini can be enjoyed raw or cooked in a multitude of ways, such as stir-fried, sautéed, steamed, grilled, or roasted. The yellow zucchini variety can sometimes be referred to as summer squash, yellow squash, or golden squash, and can be found to be slightly sweeter than its green sibling. Try both roasted along chickpeas in this healthy Summer Squash Farro Bowl, or to try raw zucchini, slice it very thin and season with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper for a quick side or starter.
Crookneck (Yellow) Squash
Much like its name suggests, this yellow squash has a curvy, tapered neck and a bulbous body. Although its skin can be bumpy, it’s thin and edible and adds to the buttery flavor of the pale flesh. It can be cooked just like zucchini, so feel free to swap it in recipes. Zephyr squash, a two-tone beauty, is a hybrid stemming from the crookneck variety, and it is also mild in flavor with a creamy, sweet flesh.
This might be the cutest squash you’ll ever see. It looks like a cross between a UFO and a spinning toy. Its skin is similar to other summer squashes—shiny, thin, and soft—and while yellow might be the most common variety, you can find pattypan squash in green and white, too. Reach for smaller ones to enjoy their subtly sweet, buttery taste, as the larger they get the more bitter they might be. Simply cut the squash in half or into quarters and sauté in butter and olive oil, or try grilling it, and sprinkle with fresh herbs like basil or tarragon before serving.
Eight Ball Squash
This ball-shaped squash, also known as round zucchini, is very similar in texture and taste to zucchini and can also be spotted in green and yellow. Smaller squash tends to be sweeter, yet larger ones still offer a mild flavor. It’s mostly found at farmer’s markets during the peak summer season. It can be cooked like other summer squash, or try cutting it into wedges and pickling it for salads or snacks.