‘Squash’ is a very broad category, encompassing some of our favorite seasonal produce. From the orange-hued, sweet-potato-like butternut squash to green, watery, snappy zucchini, the squash family is large and extremely diverse. Most squash is technically classified as a 'pepo,' which is a one-celled, many-seeded berry with a hard rind. Although most types of squash are often referred to as vegetables, they have seeds and therefore are technically classified as fruits. All squashes belong to the gourd family.
Different kinds of squash peak throughout the year, meaning that you can snack on squash in the summer and the winter, and it’s always going to be fresh and seasonal. The two main harvest times for squash are the summer and the winter, and each season produces a very distinct product.
The primary difference between summer and winter squash is the skin; summer squash is harvested before it fully matures, which means its skin is still tender and full of flavor. Winter squash, however, often has a thicker, tougher rind; this allows it to stay strong and hardy through frost and lower temperatures, but it also means that you don’t want to munch on the skin. (There are a few exceptions to this rule, like delicata and acorn squash, which are winter squash varieties with flavorful, tender skins.)
Summer squash is one of the most prolific types of produce, with zucchini, yellow squash, and pattypan squash bursting into harvest and flooding the markets throughout the season. You’ll find baskets full of these summer squash varieties at your local farmers’ market. Summer squash is harvested before it fully matures, which means its skin is tender and edible. It doesn’t need much dressing up; prepare it simply with a few minutes in the frying pan or on the grill and you’ll have a stunning fresh, seasonal side.
One of the most common varieties of summer squash, you’ll find this tubular green variety at farmers’ markets across the South. It can be enjoyed raw (sliced zucchini is a great, lighter vehicle for dips and spreads) or prepared in myriad ways (sautéed, fried, baked, grilled, spiralized: the possibilities are endless). Learn everything you need to know about zucchini in this handy guide.
Not to be mistaken for its green cousin zucchini, yellow squash is wider and has more seeds than zucchini. The two veggies, however, maintain the same texture and flavor profiles, so they can typically be used interchangeably.
The two-toned zephyr squash has a straight neck, a yellow stem, and a pale green end. It’s a hybrid squash—a cross between yellow crookneck, delicata, and yellow acorn squashes—that’s harvested in the summer. Not only is it visually striking, but its tender skin makes it a great squash to eat raw.
Try it in our Squash Tart or grilled with eggplant and brushed with basil vinaigrette.
Also known as Chayote Squash, this large, flavorful squash migrated to Louisiana in the 1800s and has propagated in the state ever since. The Louisiana Mirliton almost faded off the culinary scene after Hurricane Katrina, but has since experienced a resurgence thanks to dedicated heirloom farmers.
Try stuffing the mirliton, adding it to stews, or pairing it with seafood like shrimp.
These cute little zucchinis are also known as Eight Ball Squash and come in a perfectly-round ball shape. They grow extremely quickly (45 days!); they’re solid early producers that will be a hit at any summer cookout or potluck.
It may bear resemblance to a miniature pumpkin, but this yellow-toned squash grows in the summer. The squat, flat-bottomed shape makes this heirloom squash variety ideal for stuffing.
Squash is one of the best sources of nutrients you can find in the cold winter months. Winter squash varieties like acorn squash, butternut squash, and sugar pumpkins are chock full of vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber, and even protein. They’re also low in saturated fat and cholesterol. In addition to its praise-worthy nutritional benefits, winter squash also happens to be delicious. It typically boasts a sweet flavor and a creamy, buttery texture that lends itself beautifully to roasting or mashing. In addition to the flesh, you can often also roast some squashes’ seeds to make a tasty (and healthy) seasonal snack.
Acorn squash can be recognized for its distinctive dark, ridged exterior and orange interior. It’s sweet and buttery, making a great simple vegetable side. Unlike other winter squash varieties, the skin of acorn squash is tender and flavor, so there’s no need to peel this vegetable before roasting. It also boasts more calcium and potassium than other winter squash varieties, so this is one of the healthiest veggies you can cook this season.
Try a simple preparation with our Roasted Winter Squash recipe.
Butternut squash has recently skyrocketed in popularity; today, it’s one of the most popular winter squashes, often found pureed in soups, simply roasted and added to winter dishes, or boiled and mashed. Its starchy texture makes it a great, healthier alternative to potatoes. The thick-skinned orange vegetable can be difficult to break down (you’ll want to peel this squash), but with these tips you’ll have no problem cutting and preparing your butternut squash.
WATCH: How to Cut a Butternut Squash
You’ve probably seen this trendy squash all over—it’s recently surged in popularity because, when baked and shredded, it bears remarkable resemblance to spaghetti (but it’s a vegetable). The squash is large, round, and yellow, and once halved and roasted, the inside easily shreds to noodle-like strands. Make spaghetti squash when you’re looking for a healthier, yet still satisfying alternative to pasta. You can even buy it at Costco.
Once cooked, this squash can be treated similarly to spaghetti—bake it with marinara and mozzarella or try more eclectic flavor combinations.
This fancy squash variety is beloved for its stunning green-and-white markings. Although it’s a winter squash, it’s known for its more delicate rind (like zucchini and yellow squash, the delicata’s skin is edible).
The delicata squash doesn’t need much dressing up. It tastes great when cut into half-moon strips (no peeling required) and simply roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Try adding it to a light pasta dish.
The dumpling squash is miniature (around the size of an apple) compared to its winter squash cousins. Like the delicata squash, the dumpling squash boasts a thin, edible rind, so it can be roasted whole. Its flavor is sweet and mild, making it a great vehicle for meats or cheeses.
It can be difficult to classify a pumpkin because it fits into so many different food categories: a pumpkin is technically a squash, a gourd, and a fruit. It can be cooked and baked or used decoratively. The round orange pumpkin is extremely versatile, and different parts of the squash—from the meat to the seeds—can be used for different purposes.
Pumpkin is best known for its sweet uses, from Pumpkin Cake to Pumpkin Cheesecake to Pumpkin Pie (and don’t even get us started on pumpkin spice). But you can also try it in savory dishes like our Pumpkin-and-Winter Squash Gratin, Slow-Cooker Chicken Stew with Pumpkin and Wild Rice, or Spiced Pumpkin Grits. And be sure to roast those pumpkin seeds for a healthy fall snack.
Slightly sweet and creamy, the buttercup squash is one of the most underrated winter squash varieties. It has a tough green rind and orange flesh that bears resemblance to a pumpkin. Like the pumpkin, the buttercup squash’s seeds can also be roasted to snack on.
Pick a buttercup squash with a firm cap, halve, scoop out the seeds, and bake to bring out the squash’s sweetness. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of breaking down a pumpkin, substitute the similarly sweet buttercup squash in your favorite savory pumpkin recipe.
Don’t forget about the flowers! Squash blossoms grow on both summer and winter squash and make tasty dishes all on their own. These edible flowers can be stuffed with creamy cheese (like ricotta or mascarpone), lightly battered and fried, or used as a stunning raw garnish.