This is hard-squash season, even in South Florida where the piles of brightly colored squash are one of our only indicators that winter is approaching. Some people think those squash are only for decoration and have no idea how to prepare them. But they can all essentially be cooked the same way. The hard job is processing them or cutting them up for cooking.
The easiest way to prepare any of these varieties is to cut them in half through the middle, scoop out the seeds and any membranes and then either microwave them in a bit of water or bake them from 45 minutes to an hour, until tender.
I like to add a simple glaze during the last 10 minutes of cooking. For it, I mix some orange juice, cinnamon and ginger ale or apple cider with brown sugar, maple syrup or honey.
Or, if you eat dairy products, use a high-quality butter such as Plugra and sea salt along with fresh-ground black pepper.
Here's a primer on the most common varieties you'll find during the next few months.
Acorn Squash: The easiest to find in supermarkets. As its name suggests, this winter squash is shaped like an acorn. I love it because it's easy to slice into halves and fill with butter. A small acorn squash weighs from 1 to 3 pounds and has sweet, slightly fibrous flesh. Its dark green ribs run the length of its hard, blackish golden-yellow skin. I've also seen golden and multi-colored varieties in the market.
Banana Squash: This winter squash has the shape and color of a fat banana. It grows up to two feet in length and about six inches in diameter. Its bright orange, finely-textured flesh is sweet. Banana squash is often available cut into smaller pieces. Try roasting it.
Buttercup Squash: Part of the Turban squash family (hard shells with turban-like shapes), it has sweet and creamy orange flesh. This squash is much sweeter than other winter varieties. It can be baked, mashed, pureed, steamed, simmered or stuffed.
Butternut Squash: Available year round, these squash are cream colored and shaped like a vase. The deep-orange flesh is usually very sweet similar to that of a sweet potato. It is loaded with beta carotene and has a nutty flavor. Some people say it tastes like butterscotch. It weighs from 2 to 5 pounds. The more orange the color, typically the more ripe and sweet the squash will be.
Delicata Squash: Also called peanut squash, this is one of the tastier winter squashes. It has very creamy pulp that tastes a bit like corn and sweet potatoes. It's a lighter yellow in color and makes incredibly creamy soups. It ranges from 5 to 10 inches in length. The squash can be baked or steamed. The Delicata squash is actually an heirloom variety that's new to the modern culinary world.
Fairytale Pumpkin Squash: These are often used for decoration. The fruits are flattened on the ends but each rib is deep and beautiful. It looks just like Cinderella's coach from the Disney movie. The Fairytale Pumpkin has deep orange sweet and flavorful flesh.
Hubbard Squash: The extra-hard skins make these giant, blue-gray skinned squash one of the best keeping varieties. These are irregularly shaped, with a skin with warts.
The flesh is dense, and I think not as sweet as the other varieties. Hubbard squash is often sold in pieces that you can cut into chunks and boil or roast.
Spaghetti Squash: Also called vegetable spaghetti or noodle squash, they are shaped like a small watermelon that is creamy yellow. When halved lengthwise, seeded and steamed, baked or microwaved until tender, the flesh separates into strands that resemble spaghetti. Try pulling the strands from the shell with a fork and serving them in the "half shell." Add a sauce or melted butter and parmesan.
ACORN SQUASH STUFFED WITH APPLE-ALMOND-CHERRY BASMATI PILAF
1 cup brown basmati rice
1 1/2 cups water
2 acorn squash (about 2 pounds each), halved, seeded