The winter squash is one of the countless members of the gourd family, and is often mistaken for its close relative, the pumpkin. The pumpkin is very rounded, always orange, and has a hard, fibrous stem and rather stringy flesh. The winter squash is somewhat flatter, with a soft stem and softer, sweeter flesh with fewer strings. It is often orange tending toward red, but also dark green, depending on the variety.
All varieties of winter squash are available from fall through winter. Fresh winter squashes are sold per unit. When frozen, winter squash is cut into cubes, or made into a paste, or pureed, or steamed and frozen. The red kuri squash (sometimes organic) is available diced and frozen. Choose fresh ones with a hard skin that is free from blemishes and bruises. The round orange varieties referred to as pumpkins should still have their stem (stalk). The best pumpkin seed oil to choose is virgin cold-pressed. When refined, it loses its flavor and nutritional qualities. The best comes from Styria, Austria, and bears the quality label “Steirisches Kürbiskernöl.”
Winter squash should be peeled and seeded.
The flesh of winter squash can be steamed or cooked in a little water, and milk, in a casserole dish in the oven. The flesh can be cut into cubes and shallow fried; in the Japanese dish kabocha nimono, squash cubes are fried with a little sugar, mirin, dashi, and soy sauce.
Stripped of their skin and seeds, winter squash can be made into soup, either alone or with other vegetables or even with chestnuts. It can be made into puree or fries, soufflés, gratins, and used in pies and cakes. Cut into very thin slices, the flesh can be dried in the oven. The seeds are collected and washed. Once fully dried, they are grilled or broiled (in the oven or in a pan) and can be used in the same way as pine nuts. Pumpkin seed oil is only used cold, as a seasoning, because it does not withstand high temperatures.
A whole squash keeps for several weeks between 10 and 15°C in a dark place. Sliced: Two to three days in the refrigerator or cold room, seeded and covered with plastic wrap (cling film).
Winter squash is extraordinarily high in antioxidants, including carotenes, other carotenoids, and lutein. It also contains carbohydrate, the B-group vitamins, and minerals. Pumpkin seed oil and squash seeds are rich in phytosterols, unsaturated fatty acids, and vitamin E and so are beneficial for the arteries. They also considered good for the prostate and for preventing prostate cancer, although this has never really been verified scientifically.
Rouge vif d’Étampes pumpkin: The most common in France. It has orange-red skin and orange flesh. Very large, weighing 5 to 10 kg.
Bronze de Montlhéry squash: Greenish brown, ribbed skin, bright yellow flesh.
Yellow pumpkin, also called “romaine jaune” squash in France: Yellowish pink skin that cracks when ripe, dark yellow flesh. It is also very large.
The Connecticut Field variety of pumpkin grown in the United States is very similar.
Vert d’Espagne: The flattest winter squash. Green, fine bumpy skin that turns grayish, orange-yellow flesh, quite thick. It weighs 3 to 5 kg. Quite rare.
Ambercup or Buttercup Squash: Smaller. Skin is pink, light red to dark red, green, or bronze, depending on the subvariety, sweet yellow flesh, quite floury, with a flavor similar to chestnut. Weighs between 2 and 3 kg. In Japan, it is called the Kuri Kabocha. There are also other varieties cultivated elsewhere, such as the Quintal jaune (Central Europe), the Potiron du Chili, Potiron de Genève (almost impossible to find), Potiron d'Argentine, Potiron Niçaise (grown mainly in the region of Nice), and the New Zealand Blue.