The winter squash family is a marvel of multitasking overachievers; this nutrient-dense, high-fiber vegetable comes in such a stunning array of shapes and colors that it can do as much for your decor as your diet. Its sweet, flavorful orange flesh, so high in antioxidant-rich beta carotene, comes encased in a shell whose shade ranges from a fiery red-orange to blackish-green to ghostly pale celadon.
Now is the season when pumpkins pop up on porch steps and mantels all over the country, but the ones we choose for our Halloween displays are grown for shape and size, not flavor. And, by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, they’ve long since rotted.
Winter squash, on the other hand, not only make a festive centerpiece for your fall decorations, they have the added virtue of being a “good keeper,” i.e. remaining edible for literally months. That’s why we call them “winter squash” – even though they’re technically a fall crop, many varieties will keep right through the winter when properly stored.
They range in shape and size from the small-ish round or oblong types – acorn, sweet dumpling, butternut, delicata, spaghetti – to the more eccentric, exotic varieties, some deeply ribbed, some jumbo-sized, such as hubbards, kabochas, and turbans.
And when you finally do get around to eating them, you’ll find their flavor vastly superior to so many of the bland pumpkins that flood the markets in anticipation of Halloween. Whether you bake, roast, steam, or sauté them, winter squash are a marvelous mainstay of many a fall and winter menu.
If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer number of different kinds of winter squash, check out Daily Green’s round-up of some of the choicest varieties. And the New York Times’ Martha Rose Shulman offers five fine ways to cook up winter squash – that is, once you’re done admiring these gorgeous gourds in all their glory.