A Brief Guide to Some Winter Squash Varieties

Posted Monday, Nov 16, 2015

Searching for local produce in the early winter can seem like a fruitless endeavour. There is, however, an often-overlooked vegetable that provides the perfect base for a warm hearty meal on a cold blustery day: the winter squash!

The squash, or cucurbita fruit, is native to North and South America, and was first cultivated here before being brought over to Europe by returning explorers excited to discover a hearty new food source.  Almost all varieties are a good source of complex vegetable carbohydrates and dietary fibre. They are also an excellent source of vitamin A, C, potassium, and manganese.

We get our squash from Harvest Food Farm and Mans Organics. Both farms provide us with a variety of organic squash, ranging from the more familiar Butternut, to the daunting Marina di Chioggia. Deciding which squash to choose can be a difficult task, so here is a little information on what you can expect from just a few of the varieties we receive: 

Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash 

Almost everyone's familiar with the butternut squash, but don't write it off as mundane just because of that. It's one of our most popular squash for good reason. It has a sweet and smooth orange flesh with no fibres and a thin, easy to peel skin. It’s a classic for pureed squash soup, although it has a huge range in the kitchen: use it in soups, side dishes, pastas, and even baked goods. There are thousands of recipes out there for butternut squash, or, you can experiment with your own creation. The butternut fits into such a diverse range of dishes that it's easy to get creative with. 

Acorn Squash

Acorn Squash 

The acorn squash is another popular variety. It has sweet, yellow-orange flesh that works well as a substitute for yams. It's one of the smaller types of squash we carry, and because of this it makes a great choice for a small meal. The acorn squash is a great choice to stuff with grains, veggies, or meat before baking, although it can also be pureed for soups, pastas, or baking. It isn’t quite as high in vitamins as other winter squash, but it is still a good source of dietary fibre and potassium.

Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti Squash

The spaghetti squash is another prevalent squash in many recipes. This is due to its unique ability as a pasta substitute. It has a very different flesh from other squash, and when cooked it separates into thin strings similar to (as you might have guessed) spaghetti. It has a slight nutty flavour, and is easy to prepare. Begin by cutting it in half, scrapping out the seeds, and then baking the whole squash. Once baked, the flesh can easily be scraped out with a fork, and served like pasta. There is no shortage of spaghetti squash recipes out there, so find one that suits your palate and get squashing!

The butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash are the more recognizable varieties in North America, but here are a few noteworthy types that are gaining in popularity: 

Blue Ballet Squash

Blue Ballet Squash

The blue ballet squash is certainly one of the more interesting looking squash. It is a variety of the blue Hubbard squash, is quite small, and has a greenish blue or pale grey skin that is often rough and bumpy. The blue ballet gets a lot of attention at the market for its appearance, but people are often nervous about cooking such an outlandish specimen. Not to fear! The rind is relatively thin, and its flesh is bright orange. It is fairly sweet, and has a rich flavour similar to that of the sugar pie pumpkin. It is an excellent squash to roast, mash, and serve as a side. It's smaller size also makes it much easier to store and prepare at home. 

Delicata Squash

Delicata Squash

The Delicata squash is elongated with smooth yellow skin and vertical green stripes. The unique thing about this squash is that its skin is so then that once baked, it can be eaten. It has a firm yellow flesh that is sweet, rich, and moist. It works great in place of a sweet potato or yam. Due to their edible skin, the Delicata is a great squash to stuff with grains, meats, or other vegetables. 

Carnival Squash

Carnival Squash

The carnival squash goes by many jovial names, including 'celebration squash,' 'festival squash,' and 'heart of gold squash.' It is a hybrid created out of the acorn squash and the sweet dumpling squash. Its skin is bespeckled in bright orange, green, and cream colours, and its flesh is sweet and mildly nutty - similar to that of an acorn squash. In recipes, the carnival squash can be used interchangeably in place of an acorn, sweet dumpling, or even butternut squash. 

We also receive a few varieties of heirloom squash that are so unique that many customers comment on never having seen them before! The Queensland squash is one of those obscure cucurbitas. 

Queensland Blue Squash
Queensland Blue Squash

The Queensland Blue squash is a turban shaped gourd that can grow quite large. They have a tough blue-grey skin that is covered in heavy ribbing. Despite its unusual outer appearance, once cooked the Queensland is very similar to other winter varieties. It has a deep orange flesh that is mild, and slightly sweet to the taste. Queensland Blue tend to have a denser flesh than other squash, making it a great option for mashing or roasting. 

Marina di Chioggia Squash
Marina di Chioggia Squash

The Marina di Chioggia squash is perhaps the most aesthetically intimidating squash. Its gnarled, muted green skin makes it seem impenetrable and unappetizing. But, like the Queensland Blue squash, once you cut into it, you'll find a bright orange flesh that can substitute for just about any other winter squash. This heirloom variety is named after the Italian fishing village where it was first cultivated in the 1600's, and this makes the Marina di Chioggia a popular addition to gnocchi and ravioli recipes. 

 

These are just a few of the winter squash that grace our produce counters after the autumn harvest. We encourage you to get creative: next time a recipe calls for butternut or acorn squash, consider substituting it with the colourful Carnival squash or the distinguished Queensland Blue instead. Happy squashing! 

Matt Gigg Posted Nov 16, 2015