Yes, I realize that PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latté, for those living under a rock) season now starts as early as August, but the winter squash varietals I choose to celebrate start making their Farmer’s Market appearance in late September – early October. I’m talking about Hubbard, Delicata, acorn, butternut, Kabocha, and spaghetti squash, among other myriad types — and, of course, pumpkins.

Winter squash varietals on display at Trader Joe’s (Photo by Julie Chernoff)

When choosing your squash, look for those without skin punctures or cuts. Winter squash is by nature enrobed by a hard, thick skin that is mostly inedible. This helps to preserve the squash, so any soft spots or mold will indicate that the integrity of the vegetable has been compromised. Store in a cool but dry locale with plenty of air flow. They will keep for several months if stored properly, but once cut into, they should be used within a few days. With the notable exception of spaghetti squash, the flesh is largely interchangeable in recipes. The larger the piece of squash, the longer the cooking process will take. Right before using, wash the outer rind to get rid of any lingering dirt, then skin with a vegetable peeler. Cut the squash in half lengthwise for larger vegetables and scoop out the hard seeds within. Now cut squash into desired-size chunks and boil, sauté, or roast as called for in your recipe. Feeling lazy? No judgment here. Buy ready-to-use cubes of fresh or frozen butternut squash to add to soups and stews, or a can of organic pumpkin purée for that Thanksgiving pie.

Roast in the oven and use in a winter salad.

Heat your oven to 425F. Toss 1” cubes of peeled squash with a little olive oil, kosher salt, fresh pepper and a little garlic powder. Spread into a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast, tossing occasionally, until golden brown (about 30 minutes). Let cool, then toss with arugula, goat cheese, toasted walnuts or pecans, some chopped scallions and a handful of pomegranate seeds. Dress with a lemon vinaigrette. Serve with garlic toast and a glorious bowl of cacio e pepe.

Add some to your mac and cheese.

Roast squash as detailed above, then purée or mash well and add to the bechamel sauce along with the grated cheese before stirring in cooked pasta shells and baking. So darn good. This would be an appropriate time to buy a bag or two of Trader Joe’s butternut squash from the refrigerated vegetable case and use it here. A real timesaver.

Bake it into a gratin.

Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly oil or butter the inside of an 8-cup baking dish. Peel and slice about 20 ounces of winter squash into ¼”-thick rounds (about 3 cups) and place in a mixing bowl with an equal amount of Yukon Gold potatoes (I like the skin on here). Toss with some fresh or dried thyme, chopped rosemary, minced sage, a half cup of grated Fontina cheese, a teaspoon of kosher salt, a few thinly sliced garlic cloves and a few grinds of pepper. Pour into prepared gratin dish and pour 2 cups of milk over the top, pressing veggies down to submerge. Bake for one hour, pressing down on veggies every 20 minutes or so to absorb milk. Then top with ¼ cup each Fontina and grated Parmesan cheese and bake an additional 30 minutes until crusty and golden. Remove from oven and let sit for a bit before serving as it will be face-of-the-sun hot. This also allows starches from veggies to set up a bit and makes it easier to serve. Reheats well.

Make a warming curried soup.

In a large heavy pot, melt 3 tablespoons unsalted butter. Add 1 finely chopped large onion, 1 teaspoon sea salt, and 2 minced cloves garlic. Saute over medium heat until onions are tender. Add in 2 tablespoons curry powder and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ½ cup white wine and allow to bubble a bit. Pour in 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock and add 2 medium butternut squash that have been peeled, seeded and chopped, along with 2 Honeycrisp apples that have been peeled, cored and chopped. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until everything is nice and tender, about 30 minutes. Purée with an immersion blender (don’t have one? It’s probably my most-used small appliance. I use this one.) and add in 1 cup of apple cider. Season to taste. Sometimes I gild the lily a bit and add some coconut milk and chopped cilantro, and I’m not sorry about it one bit.

Whirl up a pumpkin-pie smoothie.

Frozen bananas are the textural key to this smooth and creamy smoothie. Add 1 cup each unsweetened almond milk, plain pumpkin purée and plain (or vanilla) Greek yogurt into blender. (I always add liquids first; it helps keep things moving.) Add two frozen bananas, broken into pieces, 2 tablespoons of almond butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice and a pinch of salt. Blend until smooth. Serves 2.

Try one of these tried-and-true recipes.

The internet is an infinite recipe resource, but how do you know which to trust? Not all recipes are created equal. Here are some I return to over and over that showcase winter squash varietals in all their glory.

Food 52’s Vermont Spice Pumpkin Cake

Smitten Kitchen’s Winter Squash and Spinach Pasta Bake

Minimalist Baker’s One-Pot Butternut Squash Quinoa Chili

Food & Wine’s Pumpkin Tiramisu

Julie Chernoff

Julie Chernoff is Food Editor at the RoundTable and a longtime food and culture writer. She loves all things Evanston and has lived here since 1989. Contact her at