Guide to Winter Squash

Learn all about spaghetti, butternut, kabocha (also known as buttercup) and acorn squash in this guide to winter squash.

Don’t be fooled by the name, winter squash is not just for winter. In fact, it’s in season right now! And considering it weirdly snow flurried yesterday (yes, on October 18th) here in NY, winter is letting us know it’s just around the corner. There is a plethora of winter squash out there but we’re going to focus on the main 4: butternut, acorn, spaghetti and kabocha (also known as buttercup) today because that’s what seems to be easiest to find at my local farmer’s market and this post is part of my seasonal/local eating series sponsored by partner, Silk. It’s kind of crazy to think this series started with spring peas in this sweet pea lemon crepe cake and strawberries in this guide to strawberries and here we are almost half a year later talking about squash.

Time flies!

Don’t miss these other info packed Guide posts:
A Guide To Strawberries
A Guide To Peaches

And these Spring Vegetable Guides:
A Guide To Leeks, A Guide To Peas, A Guide To Asparagus, A Guide To Radishes, A Guide To Artichokes

A Guide to Winter Squash

Some basic info on winter squash

Winter squash despite it’s name, is actually in season from the late summer through fall. It’s thick skin/rind, unlike summer squashes like zucchini, help it keep for long periods of time, through winter.

Picking it: There’s not much to picking a good winter squash. There shouldn’t be any soft spots and it should feel nice and heavy.

Storing it: Sort of like potatoes, winter squash stay best in a cool, dark place. I’ve actually stuck mine in our unfinished basement before and they’ve stayed all winter (4-5 months) down there without issue. If you keep them on your counter-top, you’ll want to use the squash within about 2-3 months.

Health benefits: There are so many! Winter squash are all a low-calorie, healthy complex carbohydrate full of fiber and an excellent source of vitamin A, C and potassium. Iron and beta carotene also rank high in winter squash, the darker the skin, usually the higher the source of beta carotene. Sub out winter squash for pasta, breads, rice and other grains once and awhile for healthy boost!

Guide to Winter Squash

spaghetti squash | this squash can be baked, steamed, boiled and even microwaved. Yep, I’ve cooked one entirely in the microwave before, so easy! My favorite way though is roasted. Simply slice the squash in half, lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and place in a baking dish. Roast at 375-400 degrees until flesh is soft and can easily be scraped, at least 45 minutes. Once it’s cooked, scrape the flesh out with a fork and it turns into spaghetti like strands. Use it as a healthy pasta replacement like as the base for this spicy porter short rib chili, stuff it like in this chocolate chili stuffed spaghetti squash or make fritters out of it like these spicy spaghetti squash latkes. You can even make this crazy “pasta-like” comfort dish of turkey sausage spaghetti squash baked ziti!

kabocha squash | this is an Asian variety of winter squash. Most kabocha on the market are kuri kabocha, also called buttercup squash. Kabocha are dark green, squat and sometimes called Japanese pumpkins. The kabocha flesh has a very distinct, strong flavor. It’s sweet (even sweeter than butternut) and almost reminiscent of the inside of a chestnut. While the rind is edible, most will peel it off or discard after roasting. My favorite way to eat kabocha is to roast slices of it (with the rind attached) on a sheet pan seasoned with cinnamon and other sweet spices. Once roasted, scoop the flesh right off the rind. It also makes a delicious puree given it’s natural sweetness. You can also stuff kabocha like in this wild mushroom couscous lamb stuffed kabocha squash or make soup with it in this cinnamon ginger kabocha squash soup.

butternut squash | the skin of a butternut squash is very thin unlike most other winter squash varieties. I usually remove it with a vegetable peeler before cooking. Butternut is commonly known for its sweeter flesh, but compared to the kabocha, it’s definitely not as sweet and more like a traditional pumpkin flesh. Butternut squash has become pretty interchangeable with sweet potatoes and is a great lower-calorie option roasted, pureed or mashed. It’s a squash that lends itself well to either savory or sweet preparation. Make a sauce with it and prepare this creamy sage butternut white bean gnocchi, roast it and use it in this barley butternut squash salad, serve it as a puree instead of potatoes in this creamy coconut garlic butternut squash puree or make a fun lasagna inspired dinner everyone will love with these butternut squash lasagna roll-ups with chicken and spinach.

acorn squash | with its distinct ridges that make it look just like an acorn, you can’t confuse this winter squash with any others. Acorn squash can be used in soups and purees but the flavor profile tends to be best when baked or roasted. It’s often times stuffed, like in this apple lentil stuffed acorn squash but can also be made into onion ring like form for a fun way to get your squash on like in these coconut crusted acorn squash rings.

This conversation is sponsored by Silk. The opinions and text are all mine.


  1. amanda paa

    such a great post! i love that you talk about each squash and the best ways to work with it. kabocha, or buttercup is one of my favorites. the meat so naturally sweet and dense. plus being able to eat the skin is such a bonus! xo

  2. Brittany

    Great guide lady! Winter squash is the best. Kabocha is still my favorite — I love the texture and that fact that you can eat the skin. I’ve tried a few Buttercup squash before and they were similar to Kabocha but not 100% the same so I always try to make sure it’s actually labelled Kabocha before buying.

  3. Catherine

    Dear Gina, this is such a wonderful guide. I had no idea I could keep squash for months. That is great to know..I would love to try kabocha squash. Thank you for compiling this fabulous and informative post. xo, Catherine

    1. Running to the Kitchen Post author

      Most winter squash is already ripe when in the store, no need to let it ripen or anything. Just cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and then cut into slices. It’s pretty squat so cutting in half isn’t as dangerous as a spaghetti squash (those freak me out!)

  4. Susan

    I’m obsessed with carnival squash. It’s like acorn but it’s sweeter, no sugar required. I roast it in foil ,quartered with a pinch of nutmeg and some butter. One downfall is that it’s hard to find.


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