There’s a lot of beautiful produce in season during autumn, but I always get the most excited for squash. When I finally start to see all its many different varieties crop up, I know it’s time to get my sweaters out and my oven ready. As a gourd obsessive, I know a lot about the veg, including the best ways to clean and cut it (no easy feat!), as well as all the different ways you should be cooking with it. But recently, I realized that there’s one thing about squash that I still don’t know: how to tell the good from the bad when I’m at the supermarket.
Up until now, I’ve always blindly chosen my squash from a big pile of them while praying for the best, but there’s a better, easier, more reliable way to go about doing it, Katy Green, global produce field associate at Whole Foods Market, tells SELF. In fact, it’s so easy to spot a good squash, you’ll wonder why you didn’t know what to look for sooner. Here’s everything you need to know.
When it comes to squash, pumpkins are just the beginning—there are a bunch of different varieties you should definitely know about.
According to Green, pumpkins, butternut, acorn, spaghetti, kabocha, and delicata squash are the most common varieties of the vegetable that you’ll see at the store. Each one is completely different from the last and best suited for different things.
For example, pumpkins may be famous because of pies, but Green says they’re also great in soup, especially Alton Brown’s whole pumpkin soup recipe, which is completely cooked and served in a whole, baked pumpkin. Butternut has a mild flavor that makes it good for lots of things, but she especially recommends roasting it with other fall veggies, like Brussels sprouts and parsnips. Spaghetti squash is thus named because, when you bake it, its insides become stringy and tender, like spaghetti. Acorn squash are small and ideal for stuffing—try baking them, carving out their insides, and filling them with a savory stuffing for Thanksgiving. Delicata are long and their skin is edible, so you don’t need to peel them to enjoy. They’re my personal favorite squash, and I love them simply sliced into rounds and roasted with oil and herbs. Finally, kabocha squash, a popular, Japanese variety of the vegetable, has a rich, buttery texture that makes it perfect for blending into thick, creamy soups and stews. When baked for a long time, its skin is also edible.
No matter which kind of squash you’re shopping for, you should look for the same things
Though each squash is pretty different, you can tell whether or not they’re good by looking for the same things, says Green. In general, you’ll have better luck finding a good squash if you shop for them while they’re in season (which can be anywhere from early September to late February for winter squash). When selecting, she says you should start by feeling the squash—it should be heavy for its size and the exterior texture should be very firm with no soft spots. From there, it’s all about the visuals. It should be free of exterior blemishes and the coloring should be fairly even with some exceptions on the ground spot area (that’s where the squash rested on the soil while it was growing.) If your squash passes all these tests, you’re good to go.
You can’t improve a bad squash after you buy it, but a good squash will last you for a really long time.
Like melons, winter squash don’t continue to develop sugar after they’ve been harvested, Green explains, so you can’t continue to improve its flavor at home the way you can with bananas. The good news is, that’s not something you need to worry about if you used your new squash knowledge to find a good one. In fact, if your squash is good, it can last for months—really! As long as you don’t cut it open, and you store it in a cool dry spot (but not in the refrigerator), “you could even have it for a couple of months before seeing breakdown or decay,” says Green.
Experiment with your squash in these seasonal recipes.
Cheesy Butternut Chickpea Bake
With cheese, this creamy squash bake tastes a lot like mac and cheese. Get the recipe here.
Sheet Pan Chicken Breast With Kabocha and Kale
This sheet pan dinner is a great, simple way to make use of kabocha squash. Get the recipe here.
Spaghetti Squash Carbonara
Even though this recipe is pegged as a low-carb alternative, we’d eat it regardless because it’s just that good. Get the recipe here.