Do you know the difference between summer squash and winter squash? Summer squash grows quickly and can be harvested from early summer until late fall. Winter squash, on the other hand, mature much more slowly and aren’t harvested until late fall or early winter. Within these two designations for squash, there are a ton of squash types—some new hybrids and some old heirloom varieties that are experiencing a culinary renaissance.
Summer Squash Types
Summer squash is available year round in most areas of the country. The two most popular summer squash types are the zucchini and the yellow summer squash. But, there is an heirloom variety—the pattypan that is starting to appear during the summer months at farmers markets.
1. Pattypan Squash
Pattypan squash is small and shaped like a flying saucer. This type of summer squash holds up better to high temperatures and longer cooking times than do either yellow summer squash or zucchini. Pattypan squash is excellent in stews, chilis, and even grilled into “steaks.”
Grilled Pattypan “Steaks” with Italian Salsa Verde is an outstanding recipe from the New York Times. The recipe does have an optional anchovy fillet added for saltiness, but feel free to leave it out of this pattypan squash recipe to keep this dish vegan-friendly.
2. Yellow Summer Squash
Yellow summer squash can be long and straight, or have a crooked neck. The flesh is creamy white and watery, with large seeds. The challenge in learning how to cook squash is to harness the flavor without allowing the water to make the squash mushy and unappealing.
The blog Leaves and Dishes has outlined how to cook yellow squash on the stovetop to avoid sogginess. The key is to prepare the squash fast in a bit of butter and oil and to remove it from the pan before the yellow squash starts to release its water.
Zucchini is a powerhouse of nutrition! It is a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. It is also a very versatile squash type that is well suited for stovetop preparations, as well as for baking zucchini bread or muffins. And it is the humble zucchini plant that provides us with squash blossoms.
If you’ve never had a squash blossom, you must try this Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Ricotta recipe from Epicurious. They are deep fried, but if you use a deep-fat thermometer and keep the oil at the correct temperature, they won’t be greasy.
Another great recipe for zucchini is our vegan-friendly Pasta with Zucchini and Cashew Cheese. This recipe comes together quickly and is amazingly creamy thanks to the addition of cashew cheese.
Winter Squash Types
Winter squash are much more robust and flavorful than their summer squash cousins. They have a much thicker skin, denser flesh, and heartier seeds—and they have a much longer shelf life than summer squash varieties. Winter squash, including pumpkins, acorns, butternuts, and others, are also known for their cancer-fighting phytochemicals, making them a top food that fights cancer.
1. Acorn Squash
Acorn squash is one of the most popular types of winter squash. As the acorn squash matures, the skin turns from deep heavy green to a lighter shade with hints of yellow and orange. The flesh of the acorn squash is moist, tender, and sweet. It is a perfect choice for roasting, mashing, or even sautéing.
Acorn squash bakes much more quickly when it is sliced into 1-inch thick rounds. From Fifteen Spatulas comes this slightly sweet Roasted Acorn Squash recipe that deliciously incorporates ground cloves and cinnamon. As written, it is perfect as a side dish, but this recipe would also make a delicious dessert if partnered with goat cheese or bleu cheese.
2. Pink Banana Squash
If you have seen this squash type at the store or at a farmers market—you have no doubt wondered how on earth you would prepare (and eat) something so large. Pink banana squash has an elongated shape, sweet flesh, and can weigh over 40 pounds.
When you purchase one, have a plan. Pink banana squash is very versatile and can be used in smoothies, soups, long-simmering curries, or even instead of pumpkin in a pie. From Cafe Johnsonia comes this delicious Vegan Banana Squash Coconut Curry that is loaded with warming spices, fresh ginger, coconut milk, chickpeas, and kale.
3. Butternut Squash
Butternut squash has beige skin and a vibrant orange flesh that is nutty and sweet. This winter squash variety is often used for soups, curries, and even as a filling for ravioli. And it is loaded with nutrients! Just 1 cup contains 457% of the DV of vitamin A, 52% DV of vitamin C, and over 49.2 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids.
This Vegan Butternut Squash Soup from Bon Appetit is perfect for chilly evenings during late fall and early winter when butternut squash is at its peak. The coconut milk in this recipe gives the soup its silky texture and a dose of healthy fats.
4. Spaghetti Squash
Spaghetti squash has an ivory skin that turns a pale yellow as it matures. When this squash is baked, the flesh pulls apart into crisp noodle-like strands. Spaghetti squash is often used as a pasta replacement—and this does work well; however, you likely will need to add more salt to the sauce recipe because the spaghetti squash is quite sweet when baked.
Half Baked Harvest has crafted a delicious and healthy recipe for spaghetti squash that goes way beyond just a simple marinara sauce. If you love pasta Alfredo sauce but are avoiding gluten and dairy, this recipe for Creamy Coconut Cashew Spaghetti Squash Alfredo and Roasted Cauliflower is for you! In place of heavy cheese, roasted cashews, coconut milk, and nutritional yeast are used to create a decadent and flavorful sauce that complements the sweetness of the squash perfectly.
5. Kabocha Squash
Kabocha squash has a sweet and nutty flavor, but this winter squash is a bit more dense and smooth than other varieties. Kabocha squash holds its shape well even in soups or when baked for long periods. As this variety is not one of the more popular squash types, when you see them available in your market, get two or three more than you need! Like other winter squashes, they can be stored for up to three months in a cool, dry, and dark space.
If you are ready to make a show-stopping side dish for a family gathering, you must try Detoxinista’s Stuffed Kabocha Squash that is both vegan and paleo friendly. The stuffing in this recipe is red onion, zucchini, bell pepper, fresh herbs, and a touch of olive oil mixed together and then slow roasted in the kabocha squash. Every bite is perfection—with a hint of sweetness and saltiness in every forkful.
6. Turban Squash
Turban squash is an heirloom squash that is strikingly beautiful and unique. The exterior of this winter squash is bumpy and very colorful with blasts of red, orange, yellow, and dark green. Turban squash is at its best when slow roasted and stuffed, or even used as a soup tureen.
Ian Knauer, a contributor to TakePart, has come up with a hearty meal for meatless Mondays—Roasted Turk’s Turban Squash and Onions with Tahini Dressing. The squash and onions are roasted until tender, and then the flesh of the squash is scooped out and mixed with the onions, tahini dressing, and tons of fresh herbs.
From Veggie Quest comes this ingenious turban squash Impress-Your-Friends-Soup, Now with Free Tureen recipe. A creamy vegan-friendly soup is made from the flesh of the squash, onion, vegetable stock, and warming spices, and then it is added to the hollowed out squash for serving. This dish will impress even the self-proclaimed foodies.