Acorn squash is named for its distinctive acorn shape. Its color ranges from dark green to gold or white. The acorn's heavily fluted bowl shape is often stuffed and roasted; its flesh is mild and finely textured, but often stringy.
Across the globe, winter squashes are central to the cuisine of many cultures, because they are a rich source of nutrition and will keep for months without refrigeration. Despite their different sizes, shapes and colors, winter squash generally have a very similar flavor — though their water content, sweetness and texture will vary from one variety to the next. Winter squashes are available year-round, but for best flavor and texture, enjoy them at their peak, from late September through November.
TIP: Winter squash preparation generally involves peeling the tough skins, which can be an aerobic exercise in itself. If your squash is very large and awkward to handle, use the microwave to help make cutting and peeling easier and safer. Pierce the squash deeply in several places with a sharp knife (so the squash doesn’t explode), then microwave for 2 to 8 minutes, until it’s just barely cuttable.
Make sure you use a very sharp knife with a long enough blade to cut the squash in half or into wedges. Use a spoon or ice cream scoop to remove the seeds and clean out the fibrous strands that surround the seeds. Some recipes don’t require peeling or seeding until after cooking, which makes preparation much easier.
Roasting is one of the best cooking methods for winter squash; it concentrates the sweetness of the flesh more than any other technique. Steaming adds moisture to drier-fleshed varieties such as the Kabocha. Avoid boiling; it yields waterlogged, tasteless flesh. As a general rule, it‘s better to slightly overcook winter squash than to undercook it.
Handling & Storage:
- Look for rock-hard specimens that feel heavy for their size. If there's any give to the shell, or if the skin scrapes off easily with your fingernail, the squash is either immature or past its prime. Always try to buy specimens with stems attached. Stems that are dry and corky indicate the squash remained on the vine until it was fully mature.
- A winter squash's skin should be unblemished, matte rather than shiny. Shiny skins indicate that the squash is either very young or has been waxed to extend its shelf life.
- Store winter squash in a dry, well-ventilated place, ideally at about 55 degrees F. Warmer temperatures will shorten their storage life but won’t destroy their flavor. Once cut, wrap winter squash tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days (don’t refrigerate uncut winter squash). Cooked, puréed squash freezes well and can be stored frozen up to 3 months.