Butternut and Beyond: A Winter Squash Primer

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I’ve talked to a lot of people lately who are intimidated by winter squash. The first barrier they site is the impenetrable shell of skin: Whereas summer squash can be eaten skin, seed and all, only the flesh is edible on winter squash. The second is the daunting variety. Which are edible, what do they taste like, what can you substitute and how do you cook them?

We’ve got answers here in our winter squash guide … to butternut and beyond.


Choosing a squash: In general, you want a squash that is firm and heavy for its size. If you feel any soft spots or mold, take a pass.

What’s inside? Winter squash are nutritional powerhouses loaded with beta carotene, potassium, folate, lutein and fiber, with very few calories. Their flesh is both filling and satisfying enough to make a meal in and of itself.


Butternut squash is a lovely buff-colored squash that’s shaped like an oblong gourd with a bubble at one end. Of all the winter squash, Butternut has some of the softest skin (along with Delicata and Acorn); you can easily peel it off with a Y-peeler. Its flesh ranges from pale Dreamsicle to deep orange and is creamy and nutty when cooked. And there’s a good amount of it; the entire neck is seedless.

How to use it: Butternut is a super-flexible squash and my favorite for cubing and roasting. Halve, seed, brush with oil and roast flesh side down at 400 for 50-60 minutes; or peel, cube, toss with olive oil and seasonings and roast at 450 for 40-50 minutes, turning occasionally. Use roasted squash in risotto, soup or as a spread for sandwiches or pizza.

Substitute: acorn or Buttercup.

It used to be acorn squash were dark green with an occasional orange mottle, but nowadays this squash comes in all sorts of colors and patterns, like the spotted Carnival variety above. Although acorn’s skin is even thinner than butternut, its deep grooves make it more difficult to peel. Its flesh is sweet, but stringier than the rest.

How to use it: I like to cut this squash into wide slices or wedges and roast them with a sticky-sweet glaze. Halve, seed and brush with oil. Then slice or roast halves at 425 for 20-40 minutes.

Substitute: butternut or delicata.

Most kabocha squash are somewhat squat, with lumpy, shiny, dark green skin. Although I’ve also been finding kabochas with pale blue skin (above) which look a bit like miniature Hubbards. Regardless of the external color, the flesh of a kabocha is deep reddish-orange and dense in both texture and flavor when cooked.

How to use it: Kabocha makes a wonderful roasting squash and I find it melds well with Eastern-leaning flavors. Halve, seed, brush with oil and roast flesh down at 400 for 60-75 minutes. Scrape out flesh and use in soups, pasta or a mash. Or seed, stuff and roast whole.

Substitute: Buttercup.

Sweet Dumpling
Shaped like a miniature pumpkin with pale yellow, green-striped skin, Sweet Dumplings have deep orange flesh that’s mild, dry and sweet—almost like a sweet potato.

How to use it: The main draw of Sweet Dumplings is that they’re so darned cute. Stuff and roast them whole or ladle in soup for serving. Seed and roast at 400 F for 50-60 minutes.

Substitute: kabocha or buttercup.

Delicata are beautiful oblong squash with gently-ridged, butter-colored skin and dark green stripes. It’s the most perishable squash of the bunch because its skin is so thin (so thin, in fact, it’s edible). The flesh is light, sweet and kind of cakey-moist in a good way.

How to use it: Halve and seed the squash, brush with oil, cut into slices and roast at 400 F for 20-30 minutes.

Substitute: acorn squash.

Similar in appearance to a kabocha squash, but with slightly smoother, lighter green skin that grows a “turban” as it ages. Buttercup’s flesh is bright orange, smooth and creamy with voluptuous flavor and hazelnut overtones when cooked.

How to use it: Halve, seed, brush with oil and roast flesh down at 400 F for 60-75 minutes. Scrape out flesh and use in soups, pasta or a mash. Or seed, stuff and roast whole.

Substitute: butternut or kabocha.

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Millet-Stuffed Kabocha Squash with Indian Spices

Millet is a gluten-free whole grain that soaks up flavors something fierce — in this case, the heady mix of Indian spices that pair so beautifully with Kabocha squash.

Millet-Stuffed Kabocha Squash with Indian Spices

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Yield: Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a side

Millet-Stuffed Kabocha Squash with Indian Spices


  1. 1 (3 to 3-1/2)pound Kabocha squash
  2. 3 cloves garlic, peeled whole
  3. 1 inch-long piece of ginger, peeled
  4. 1 teaspoon olive oil
  5. Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  6. 1-1/4 cups chicken stock
  7. 1 teaspoon yellow curry powder
  8. 1/8 teaspoon cardamom
  9. ¼ teaspoon coriander
  10. ½ teaspoon cumin
  11. ½ cup millet
  12. ¼ cup golden raisins
  13. ½ cup light coconut milk
  14. ¼ cup toasted, skinned, chopped hazelnuts


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut top off squash and scrape out seeds, just like you would prepare a jack-o-lantern. Rub flesh (including the ‘lid’) with garlic and ginger, then slick with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the lid back on the squash and roast in a roasting pan for 50 minutes.

While squash is roasting, mince garlic and ginger, and add to a medium saucepan with the chicken stock, spices and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and stir in millet. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.

After squash has roasted 50 minutes, stir raisins and coconut milk into millet and spoon into squash. Tent with foil and continue roasting for another 20-30 minutes, until squash can easily be pierced with a knife.

Using a large spoon, carefully scrape the flesh of the squash into the millet a little bit at a time (the shell will hold its shape if you’re careful). Sprinkle hazelnuts on top and serve.


Cook Time: 70 to 80 minutes


  • http://eatingisforfood.blogspot.com/ Lydia

    The gray-blue colored squash in the picture above is not actually a kabocha squash but called Jarrahdale variety, one of the most flavorful and sweet squashes out there, with a wonderfully silky texture.

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/liahuber/ Lia Huber

    I love the sound of the Jarrahdale … I’m a big fan of the silky texture. I think the squash up there, though, is too tiny to be a Jarrahdale–it’s just under 2 pounds. But … while the produce guy at the market told me the squash was a Blue Kabocha, and I have found other mentions of Blue Kabocha, I think it’s technically a Stella Blue Hokkaido. Which would make sense, since “Kabocha” tends to be used somewhat generically in America to mean Japanese varieties of squash, and Hokkaido is a Japanese variety.

    In any case, it was delicious (I roasted a larger version for the recipe). The meat is flavorful and quite dense.

    I’m keeping my eyes peeled for Jarrahdales now though …