Squash can be divided into two categories: summer and winter. Summer squash have thin, edible skins and soft seeds. The flesh is mild-tasting and tender, so it doesn't require long cooking. Common varieties of summer squash include:
- Crookneck—Light to deep yellow in color with a long, curved neck and creamy flesh.
- Pattypan—Round and flattish, with pale green skin and scalloped edges.
- Zucchini—Cylindrical and slightly curved, with green, yellow or white skins and off-white flesh.
- Winter squash have hard, thick skins and seeds. The deep yellow to orange flesh is firmer in texture and requires more cooking. Common varieties of winter squash include:
- Acorn—Oval-shaped with ribbed, dark green skin and orange flesh.
- Butternut—Large and cylindrical with a bulbous end, beige skin and sweet, orange flesh.
- Hubbard—Very large, with a thick, bumpy dark green to bright orange shell. The grainy flesh is often mashed or puréed.
- Spaghetti—Watermelon-shaped with creamy yellow skin and flesh that separates into golden strands when cooked.
Some squash varieties are available year-round, but summer squash are best from early to late summer. Choose smaller squash (these are more tender) with brightly colored skins and no spots or bruises.
Winter squash are best from early fall through the winter. Choose squash with hard, deep-colored rinds that are heavy for their size. They should be free of blemishes or moldy spots.
Refrigerate summer squash in a plastic bag for up to five days. The harder skin of winter squash allows them to be stored longer. Keep them in a cool, dark place for up to one month.
Summer: Wash the squash and trim both ends. Peeling isn't required (except for the chayote variety). Blot dry if sautéing or using in salads.
Winter: To cut through the hard skin, use a heavy knife. First slice off the stem, then cut down through the middle to halve. Use an ice cream scoop or large spoon to scoop out the seeds and membranes.
Note: Winter squash are easier to cut if microwaved first. Pierce the rind several times and heat on high for one to two minutes. Another option is to peel after cooking.