A guide to winter squash — how to use it and where to eat it in the East Bay

A variety of winter squash. All photos: Katie Lauter

Every autumn, my kitchen is suddenly overwhelmed with an abundance of winter squash. These bright yellow, red, orange and green squash come in a variety of shapes, sizes and textures but all make for comforting, hearty and healthy dishes, perfect for the cooler weather ahead.

Pumpkin is the most well known of the winter squashes, along with butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash which are available year-round. But just as fall begins, many more varieties of winter squash start arriving at local grocery stores (like Berkeley Bowl, Monterey Market) and farmers markets.

Below is a guide to these lesser-known winter squashes. Regardless of what type you choose, when buying a hard squash, find one that is heavy for its size with a firm, deeply colored rind, free of any soft spots. Winter squash will keep in a cool, dark pantry for a month or longer. And save the seeds for roasting — all winter squash seeds are edible.

As a bonus, I’m including my new favorite recipe, using not one, but two, winter squashes. If you’re not the cooking type, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. I’ve also compiled a list of some East Bay restaurants where you can enjoy savory squash dishes, so you won’t miss out on this season’s harvest.


Kabocha squash

A Japanese squash variety, kabocha can be found in two colors: deep red-orange and forest green with light green spotting and striping. The red variety is slightly sweeter. A manageable size, kabocha range from two to four pounds. The flesh is light orange in color, and the flavor is a cross between a sweet potato and an acorn squash. Kabocha can be prepared similarly to acorn squash, roasted and in soups.

Delicata squash

Delicata is a small oblong squash, yellow in color with asparagus-green striping with pale orange flesh. The beauty of this little winter squash is that there is no need to peel it — its thin skin is edible. Dubbed the “sweet potato squash” for its flavor, it also tastes a little of yellow corn. These are wonderful simply roasted with salt and oil until caramelized.

Buttercup squash

Slightly smaller than an acorn squash, buttercups are dark green with light green-gray striation and spotting, and have a light green-gray turban top. The flesh is orange, and it has a creamy sweet potato and chestnut flavor. These are lovely steamed, baked or in a curry.

Turban squash

Turban squash is often revered for its stunning show of fall colors and interesting shape, but it’s not just a Thanksgiving table decoration. Closely related to the buttercup squash but less sweet in flavor, the turban squash has a mild sweetness with hazelnut notes. These beautiful squash work well in spiced soups or served stuffed and roasted.

Fairytale pumpkin (Musquée de Provence)

Another squash that is often coveted for its decorative appeal, fairytale pumpkins also make for a delicious dinner and dessert. They are deeply ribbed and squat in shape, often dusty orange or white with a bright orange interior. Commonly used in French cooking, these have a classic sweet pumpkin flavor and can be used in any recipe that calls for pumpkin — from pies and breads to stews and soups.

Red kuri squash

Red kuri is similar in size to a sugar pumpkin but with a more elongated shape. The skin is a bright orange-red and the flesh is dark yellow, boasting a sweet nutty flavor. Red kuri is popular in Japan, where “kuri” means chestnut, giving you a hint about what taste awaits you within. This squash is quite good roasted for a salad or as the base of a creamy soup.

Carnival squash

A beautiful small squash with an orange, green, white and yellow exterior, carnival squash are a cross between sweet dumpling and acorn squash. The flesh is firm, pale yellow-orange in color, and tastes buttery sweet and nutty. Use a carnival squash wherever you would use an acorn squash, stuffed and baked or roasted with sweet and spicy seasonings.


Spaghetti Squash Bake with Kabocha Cream Sauce and Sausage

Serves 8

Ingredients

1 spaghetti squash

1 kabocha squash (green or red)

Olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced


Salt and pepper

1/2 pound spicy Italian sausage, casing removed

1/2 pound mild Italian sausage, casing removed

1 teaspoon fennel seed

1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 bunch lacinato kale

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Ingredients for Spaghetti Squash Bake with Kabocha Cream Sauce and Sausage recipe. Photo: Katie Lauter

With a paring knife, pierce the skin of both squash several times, and place on a sheet tray into a cold oven. Then heat the oven to 375°F, and bake the kabocha for 40 to 50 minutes and the spaghetti squash for 60 to 75 minutes, or until a paring knife is inserted easily. Remove, set aside, and leave the oven on.

In a large sauté pan, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat, and add the onion with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Push all of the onion to one side of the pan, and add another drizzle of oil to the empty spot on the skillet. Add the sausage, fennel and pepper flakes to the pan. Using a wooden spatula, break up the meat into small pieces, and cook for 5 minutes, or until the pink of the meat is no longer visible, and during the last minute, stir together with the onions and add the garlic.

While the onion and sausage mixture is cooking, remove the ribs from the kale and cut into large bite-sized pieces. Once the sausage mixture is finished cooking, turn the heat off, add the kale, and mix together gently to wilt.

Sausage and kale mixture for Spaghetti Squash Bake with Kabocha Cream Sauce and Sausage recipe. Photo: Katie Lauter

Cut the kabocha squash in half, remove the seeds with a spoon and the skin with a knife. Cut the kabocha into large cubes and add to a blender. Add the cream and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Blend until smooth and taste for salt and pepper. (The sauce will be flavoring all of the spaghetti squash, so its seasoning should stand up.)

Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds being careful not to remove too many squash strands. Working the short way across each half, use a fork to scrape the spaghetti squash out into long pieces. Add these to a 9×13 baking dish.

Pour 3 cups of the kabocha cream sauce over the spaghetti squash and add the sausage mixture. Using two spoons, mix everything together. Top with the mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake in 375°F oven for 25 to 35 minutes or until the cheese is brown and bubbly. Enjoy hot.

(Recipe from thelittleartichoke.com)


A few local restaurants serving winter squash

Menus are subject to change; call ahead for the latest offerings.

Berkeley

Comal

Bone-in 22-ounce ribeye with Brussels sprouts and butternut squash

La Marcha

Paella huertana — kabocha squash, chickpeas, cauliflower, piquillo peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, English peas, asparagus, saffron, rice

Delicata squash croquetta (coming soon)

Oakland

Belotti

Gnocchetti di zucca — pumpkin gnocchi, Grana Padano sauce, brown butter, shaved Alba black truffle

Millennium

4-course prix fixe fall pumpkin dinner, available October 25-27

Pumpkin mac ‘n cheese, available on Halloween

Beyond

Juanita & Maude (Albany)

Delicata tempura with hen of the woods mushrooms and sunchokes topped with shichimi togarashi

Sabio on Main (Pleasanton)

Half “brick” chicken with chirimen squash, arugula, white pomegranate, chevre, garlic jus

Trabocco (Alameda)

Agnolotti di zucca — Housemade pasta filled with butternut squash, walnuts, brown butter sage sauce and Parmesan over fresh tomato sauce

Gnocchi all’ abbruzzese — Housemade potato dumplings in a butternut squash, mushroom and white wine sauce