There are dozens of types of squash,
which can generally be divided into two main categories. The older
classification divided squash into summer and winter types. But these
vegetables are no longer seasonal and are now in the market all year
long. A more exact distinction is between thin-skinned and hard or
thick-skinned varieties. Thin-skinned squash includes yellow summer
squash, zucchini, pattypan or cymling (both celadon green and sunburst
yellow), chayote, cucumber, and pumpkin. Thin=skinned varieties are
best when picked very young and small, long before they reach their
maximum size, while the seeds are still very immature and the flavor is
delicate and fresh. The skins should be thin enough to be easily
pierced with your fingernail. These squash are fragile, spoil easily,
and require refrigeration.
There are different types of squash, regardless hard or thick skinned
squash takes in all of the long-keeping varieties, including butternut,
buttercup, delicate, Hubbard, Kabocha, spaghetti sweet dumpling,
turban, and the most popular corn. There are many other hard-skinned
varieties, but most unavailable commercially or are found only in very
small quantities in specialty greengrocers. The thick-skinned squash
are left on the vine until they are fully mature and the shells are too
hard to pierce easily. The seeds are fully developed and, for the most
part, are inedible. The size of these types of squash is not the
indication of quality that it is in the thin-skinned varieties. Some
very large specimens can be even sweeter, more flavorful, and less
fibrous than smaller ones. These types of squash are best when picked
and allowed to age, or cure, slightly before storing. If stored in a
dry place at optimum temperature of about 50°F, they will keep through
the winter – a real blessing before the advent of interstate trucking
Squash are multipurpose vegetables. They can be boiled, baked, steamed,
stewed, roasted, mashed, fried and combined with meats, fruits, and
other vegetables to create hundreds of different dishes, both savory
and sweet. In fact you could serve some kind of squash 365 days in a
row and never repeat a simple vegetable recipe.
The following are the types of squash most readily available in
supermarkets and greengrocers.
Summer squash is also called yellow squash and can be both straight,
like yellow zucchini, and crooked neck. Thin-skinned and fully edible,
summer squash is delicious raw in simple vegetable recipes such as
salads or on crudités platters.
Pattypan (cymling, scallop, custard squash) squash is a tiny-to-small,
saucer-shaped, thin-skinned squash with scalloped edges. It ranges in
color from a beautiful pale celadon green to cream and to the vibrant
yellow of the Sunburst variety. It’s a frequently neglected squash that
can be stuffed, eaten raw, or substituted in any simple vegetable
recipes calling for summer squash or zucchini.
Acorn squash, as its name suggests, is shape like a large acorn. This
very thick-skinned variety may be golden yellow, orange, deep green
tinged with orange, or white (a new variety). This can be a sweet
delicious squash, or it can be watery tasting and stringy. Look for
smaller sizes that can be split in half, yielding two servings. Larger
ones can be cut into wedges or sliced across into rings.
Buttercup squash, shaped somewhat like a small flattened green turban
squash, is small at the blossom end and bulbous at the stem end. The
flesh is deep orange, solid, sweet tasting, and full of beta-carotene.
Buy it when you see it for a real treat.
Butternut squash is an elongated, beige-yellow, bell-shaped squash that
can grow to be quite large. It is usually available all year long. The
orange flesh is sweet and creamy tasting. The smaller ones are good for
stuffing; larger ones can be cut up and used in simple soups recipes,
casseroles, and gratins.
Delicata is a relatively small, elongated green-and-yellow-striped
squash. The pale yellow flesh is sweet with a flavor sort of like fresh
corn. The skin is thinner than other hard-skinned varieties, and it
does not store well. Plan to eat it within a week or two of buying it.
Hubbard squash is an often extremely large, warty skinned squash,
shaped somewhat like an old-fashioned top. Colors can range from dark
pine green and deep pumpkin orange to gray. Sometimes it is sold
already cut into pieces. If cut, look for the deepest orange flesh,
regardless of the skin color. It’s very good for stewing or combining
with other vegetables and meats.
Kabocha squash looks like a small green pumpkin. The skin can be
mottled and bumpy. This Asian favorite has a dense, sweet flesh that is
less watery than some of its cousins.
Spaghetti squash is an oval-shaped, golden yellow squash with a
relatively thin skin (thus it is sometimes categorized with
thin-skinned verities). When this squash is cooked, the flesh falls
into long, pale golden strands, which can be sauced and served much the
same as pasta. The crisp texture and delicate flavor make it a natural
to combine with all sorts of sauces, but it can also be very good
tossed with just butter, salt and pepper.
Sweet dumpling squash is small (one yields one or two servings at the
most) with a flattened pumpkin shape and mottled dark green to beige or
orange stripes. The yellow-orange flesh is sweet and very tasty. This
squash can often be substituted for acorn squash, though the flavor is
Turban is a large flat-based squash with a three-knobbed topknot. It
looks a great deal like an old-fashioned Turkish turban, hence the
name. The color can range from golden to pumpkin orange with green
stripes, all on the same squash. Choose a dense, heavy specimen. This
is a wonderful keeper that can be part of a harvest display on the
table, then popped into the pot to enjoy as part of a meal. It combines
well with other flavors and is especially good in gratins and other
baked dishes, as well as simple vegetable recipes.
While squash is available in myriad shapes, sizes, colors, and tastes,
all provide much the same nutritional elements. They contain large
quantities of beta-carotene; and the more orange the flesh, the more it
contains. All are low fat, have no cholesterol, and supply moderate
amounts of fiber as well as vitamins B and C.