Pumpkins, squashes and gourds are right in season, but with hundreds of different varieties with varying flavours and textures to choose from, it can be tricky to know which to use in your cooking. Farmdrop’s very own social media manager and part-time chef, Beth Thomas, guides us through how to cook squash from the best of the bunch.
From the common butternut to beautiful acorn to cute munchkin, winter squash all look and taste very different. Some contain more water and soften quicker than others, some have very tough, chewy skin, some can be stringy, and others more robust. So when a dish calls for ‘100g of pumpkin or squash’ it can be misleading to think they’re interchangeable.
Unlike summer courgettes and patty pans, which have delicate flesh and skin and can be eaten either raw or lightly cooked, winter squash varieties are tougher. They have thicker skin and larger seeds and they need to be cooked slower and longer for best results. Winter squash sucks up any strong flavours you throw at it, all while holding its own sweet savouriness. Perfect for autumnal, slow-cooked suppers.
Here’s a guide to the best varieties in season right now and how to cook squash.
What does it taste like? Turks Turban has a sweet and nutty, caramelly flavour with a honey-like depth and smooth, pudding-like flesh, which makes it a superb choice for roasting.
And the texture? The flesh stays nice and firm so it can be chopped into chunks or sliced and roasted. The skin is tough and not very pleasant to eat. It can be hard to cut raw, so it’s easier if you part-roast or steam it first, then scoop out the flesh.
How shall I cook it? It’s great roasted and will hold it’s own against strong flavours, like in a tandoori squash soup. Halve a squash and sprinkle with aromatic tandoori spices, such as paprika, ground ginger, cumin and coriander. Roast in the oven until the insides are soft. Scoop out and add to a mixture of fried onions, garlic, chilli and ginger. Cover with a tin of coconut milk, bring to the boil then blitz into a thin soup.
What does it taste like? Harlequin squash has a satisfyingly sweet, savoury and nutty flavour. When roasted simply with a drizzle of oil and sea salt, acorn squash has a wonderful umami, slightly meaty flavour. It tastes a bit like fluffy roast potatoes cooked in chicken fat (don’t ask me how but it does). Because of this, acorn works really well with sweet, game meat.
And the texture? Harlequin squash skin is edible, and stays nice and tender when cooked, so it’s great a one to stuff. Gill Miller’s new cookbook, Time, has some wonderful squash-inspired recipes. His Squash stuffed with lentils, pheasant and black pudding (below) works particularly well with acorn squash.
How shall I cook it? Instead of lentils, why not make a version of a dahl with sweet roasted squash. Cut an acorn squash into small cubes. Heat oil in a pan and throw in 4 cardamom pods, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 1 small diced onion, a finely chopped red chilli and 1 tablespoon of grated ginger. Cook on a medium-low heat until the onions have softened. Add the squash and a tin of coconut milk. Simmer on a low heat until the squash begins to break apart. Mash the squash a little with a fork to make a chunky, thick, stew-like consistency. Finish with a squeeze of lime juice and serve with rice, as a side to a curry or blitz and enjoy as a thick soup.
Also known as red kuri, onion squash is so named because, as you can guess, it looks like a big, orange onion.
What does it taste like? Deep, rich and slightly creamy, onion squash pairs well with other creamy flavours like walnuts, ricotta and parmesan. It also balances with herbal sage, vibrant citrus zest or a little chilli.
And the texture? It collapses when cooked and has a melt-in-the-mouth texture. The skin softens eventually and is fine to eat.
How shall I cook it? There are all manner of ways to cook onion squash. It’s very versatile. Favourites are in curry, risotto or these gorgeous squash fritti.
Cut the squash into pieces (any size will do as long as you keep them fairly thin), then dip them in batter and fry in plenty of oil until golden. Drain on kitchen paper, then serve hot with gratings of Parmesan and lots of sea salt. For extra-light, crisp results, whisk a couple of egg whites into the batter just before cooking, or spice it up with cinnamon, chilli flakes or even orange zest.
With so many other varieties, good old butternut might sound a little boring. But cooked in the right way this squash can be wonderful. It’s the most popular because it’s easy to grow all year round. It’s flesh is softer to cut into and you can eat the skin.
What does it taste like? Slightly sweet and nutty, but not too strong, butternut can handle strong flavours like blue cheese, smoked meat, garam masala or sage.
And the texture? It’s easy to cut and the skin is great to eat. The flesh stays nice and firm when cooked.
How shall I cook it?
Butternut is a good option for lots of different dishes, such as stuffing and roasting, or in soups and stews. Our winner is Rosa’s Thai Cafe’s famous Thai Red Butternut Curry. Like all squash, butternuts are so sweet they can be used in desserts or sweet pancakes. Roast it and serve with maple syrup, toasted pecans and creme fraîche for an epic dessert. For pumpkin pie purée, butternut squash is the best substitution for the canned stuff. Try peeling, roasting in butter then purée well and leave to drain in muslin cloth until thick. Or add it into your next pancake mix.
This is more of a classic halloween-type pumpkin but don’t be tricked. It tastes as beautiful as it looks.
What does it taste like? Not an overwhelmingly strong flavour but nice and sweet.
And the texture? The skin stays quite hard, even when cooked, so it’s probably better to remove it completely. Or roast it whole, then scoop out the tender, cooked flesh.
How shall I cook it? There’s not too much flesh inside but they are perfect as individual portions, so try stuffing or roasting and filling with soup, using the hard shell as a bowl. Or why not peel and chop into chunks then fry in a hash with blue cheese, sage, bacon and apples.