by Mariana Rufin
Fall is long gone, and we’re well into winter. Winter in upstate New York can be unforgivingly cold, and for those of us who prefer warm weather, it can be difficult to find the good in the changing of the seasons. One thing that helps us enjoy the long winter is finding ways to use seasonal ingredients to make meals that keep our bodies warm and nourished. Luckily, squash and gourds are the perfect candidates for these foods, and are endlessly versatile in their preparation. If butternut squash and pumpkin recipes seem tired to you, there are many other gourds on this list that deserve attention. Use this article as a guide to the squash and gourds that are available at this time of year, and how to use them best – during and beyond the holiday season.
‘Squash’ and ‘gourds’ are terms which are generally used interchangeably, but there are key differences between the two that affect their preparation, texture, and taste. Gourds and squash are closely related on the botanical family tree, but most gourds are purely ornamental with tough, resilient skins and bitter tastes. Squash, on the other hand, have a longer growing season, softer rinds, and can have sweet, nutty, earthy flavors. Some of our favorite gourds for decorating include warted gourds, autumn wing gourds, and mini bottle gourds; these and many other varieties can be found at farmer’s markets, pumpkin patches, and sometimes even grocery stores. While the focus of this article is on the edible variety of gourds, using the aforementioned varieties for decoration is an easy and sustainable way to bring elements of the season into your space.
This wouldn’t be a proper guide if butternut squash wasn’t included. By far the most accessible and iconic type of squash, butternut squash has a slightly sweet flavor that lends itself well to both savory and sweet recipes. Preparing a butternut squash is as simple as roasting it until the skin is practically falling off. Depending on the size of the squash, this can take anywhere from 25 to 40 minutes. Once roasted, butternut squash can be puréed for soup, tossed in salads, or mashed and combined with grated cheese and heavy cream for a reinvented take on mashed potatoes. When preparing this vegetable, use its mild flavor and ease of preparation to your advantage and add it anywhere you see fit. Butternut squash pecan pie? Butternut squash mac and cheese? Why not!
Kabocha, literally meaning ‘pumpkin’ in Japanese, is a Japanese variety and has plenty of uses in East Asian cuisine. The taste is slightly similar to that of other popular squash, but kabocha pumpkins have a more intensely earthy flavor that is perfect for savory recipes. Kabocha can be prepared the same way as butternut squash, but most traditional recipes opt to steam the squash or use it in hearty, flavorful stews and curries. Unfortunately, kabocha pumpkins are tougher to track down in supermarkets, but the reward is worth it. For a traditional method of preparation, make a Japanese-Style Beef Stew, however kabocha will pair seamlessly with almost any stew or braised dish.
Sugar pumpkins, as the name suggests, have the sweetest flavor of the squash on this list and are best suited for desserts, or used more sparingly in savory recipes. The flavor of sugar pumpkins is the inspiration for pumpkin spice, and is the variant used in canned pumpkin purée. Besides the obvious suggestion of pumpkin pie, other possible desserts include pumpkin cheesecake, a spiced pumpkin loaf, or pumpkin butter. For savory dishes, use pumpkin purée to add a sweet and nutty flavor to pasta sauce, baked with potatoes in a pumpkin gratin, or simply roasted and served with a protein. Barring the removal of the stem, sugar pumpkins are prepared in the same fashion as other squashes on this list: baked, roasted, stewed, steamed…
The defining characteristic of spaghetti squash is its resemblance to spaghetti pasta once shredded, but this squash has other purposes beyond being a replacement food. Spaghetti squash has a sweeter flavor, however unlike sugar pumpkins, the stringy texture makes it a poor choice for desserts. Instead, opt to bake the squash with other vegetables and proteins, and serve alongside rice, pasta, or a quality loaf of bread. For an easy spaghetti squash recipe which makes use of its unique property, shred the insides and roast them normally, then broil the cooked ‘spaghetti’ with mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce on top. Serve with fresh basil, parmesan, and a warm baguette.
Not only are acorn squash visually pleasing with their ridged, dark green exterior, but they are exceptionally high in calcium and potassium. Acorn squash are remarkably similar to butternut squash in flavor but are much smaller in size, making it a great option for those who want to prepare a squash-centric meal for themselves without the hassle of having days of leftovers. If this article makes one point obvious, it’s that squash are incredibly versatile, and acorn squash are no exception. Acorn squash have tender skins that can be eaten so they are ideal for roasting whole as an easy side, or the flesh can be mashed and used in muffins, streusel, cakes, and other sweets.
We hope this guide to gourds and squash will inspire you to take advantage of seasonal winter produce and look at the season with a new perspective.