Every winter squash boasts its own culinary virtues. In fact some of the newer orange pumpkin varieties have been improved for better eating quality.
Here are some delicious examples and their characteristics:
WINTER SQUASH VARIETIES
Spaghetti Squash: Nature's exclusive design for pasta fanciers, this football-shaped squash with pale yellow shell has wide appeal for its translucent tender-crisp angel-hair strands that welcome mild pasta sauces. Cooked al dente, the squash makes a nice salad with vinaigrette-herb dressing. A lighter yellow skin indicates a sweeter pulp.
Australian Blue: Medium to large newer variety with pale bluish gray skin, sometimes with a partial shade of peach, this squash is nicely scalloped. Beneath its very tough heavy skin, is a brilliant orange meat with smooth texture. Flavor is excellent, hearty and delicious for all-purpose puree or plain baked.
Sweet Dumpling: Scalloped, this small slightly squatty, round squash has a cream colored shell with indented dark green striping. Deep yellow in color when cooked, the meaty flesh has smooth, dense texture with a pleasingly sweet flavor similar to sweet potato. Makes a beautiful natural vessel with cap sliced off and cavity filled with stuffing or sweet cream or melted butter. Use within two to three weeks; it doesn't store as well as other varieties.
Delicata: Similar in texture, color and taste (however not as sweet) to Sweet Dumpling with just a hint of corn flavor. Also with deep-green vertical striping on its whitish shell (sometimes with orange streaks), this six- to nine-inch long, slender squash is torpedo-shaped. Squash is particularly pretty when peeled with green ribs left on; cut in scalloped circles if desired.
Gold Nugget: Small one- to two-serving orange-skinned globe with smooth, velvety meat with a deep orange color but milder flavor. Great for stuffing or pureeing for sauces and custard.
Butternut: Slightly softer rind than the average winter squash, this tan-colored, elongated gourd has a bulbous end that contains the seed cavity. Fine flavor, delicately sweet, moist pulp with yellow color. A lot of solid meat in elongated part. Butternut keeps well and sweetens with time.
Acorn, golden, white and green: Outstanding for baking. All oval-shaped with deep ridges. White variety has a delicate, blander taste, creamy color, fluffier texture than the sweeter golden and green acorns, which both have golden thick meat. Award-winning golden acorn has best flavor. Traditional green-skinned (Table Ace and Table King) are most popular.
Calabaza or West Indian Pumpkin: Large, bright yellow to orange squash with fine-grained, moist but not watery flesh. Usually sold in pieces. Adapts well to other foods when cut in chunks for vegetable casseroles. Also delicious with fresh cream. Large seeds take well to toasting.
Kabocha: Drum-shaped flattened on top with deep-green rind that's mottled, this Japanese Buttercup strain averages two to three pounds. Flesh cooks to bright yellow-orange and is mildly sweet and mealy.
Sweet Mama: Award-winning dark green squash with golden yellow flesh--a sweeter version of kabocha squash. In general, buttercup varieties have similar dark green shells with light grayish green streaks. They're all excellent for an all-purpose golden puree.
Baby Blue Hubbard: More practical for eating than the larger Hubbard. This round dull-blue squash has a large cavity, and is rich and flavorful with a dense, deep-yellow orange pulp.
Boston Marrow: Shaped like a Hubbard, this hybrid has a bright deep orange skin coloring with rugged texture. Size can go up to 15 pounds or more. Great for decoration and keeps well for several months.
Turk's Turban: Although edible, this distinctively shaped gourd is grown more for its ornamental uses for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Bright brick red with streaks of green and white, it has a three-knob cap that sits on its rounded squatty base.
Banana Squash: This oversize pale yellow squash with yellow meat is often sold in cut-up pieces; convenient for slicing into chunks. Original shape is elongated with large fibrous center. Flavor is hearty and mildly sweet.
WINTER SQUASH BASICS
Buying guide: A hard tough skin (except for butternut) indicates full maturity. Look for squash that's heavy for its size; lightweight ones will not have as much edible meaty flesh. Avoid squash with soft sunken or moldy spots, those with cuts, punctures and stems removed.
Storage: To preserve sweetness and avoid chilling injuries, do not refrigerate unless opened. Keep in cool, well ventilated dry place for one to three months, on the average and up to six months for some. Cooked pureed squash can be frozen up to six months.