Winter squash

It's high time for winter squash, and there's a cornucopia of eye-catching varieties to choose from. (Andre J. Jackson/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

Can you say kabocha? It's high time for winter squash, and there's a cornucopia of eye-catching varieties at local grocery stores.

Winter squash come in many shapes and colors. No two look exactly alike.

Some are shaped like a flat pumpkin with a knot on top. Others resemble a large, oddly shaped football with bluish-gray skin so hard you need to drop it on concrete to break it into pieces. Some, with names like sweet dumpling, buttercup and delicata, have thick plump ridges that hover around sunken stems.

And winter squash are winners in nutrition and taste.

"Nutritionally, squash is one of the best things you can eat," says Richard Andres, owner of Tantre Farms in Chelsea, Mich., "and it has an excellent flavor."

Squash are packed with antioxidants and vitamins--and have no fats.

At Tantre Farms, Andres grows a variety of squash, including popular butternut and acorn. But he also has sweet dumpling, delicata, three varieties of kabocha, hubbard, Naples long and carnival.

"Hubbard is one of the best there is in terms of flavor and texture," says Andres. "It has a devoted following; people like to cook and freeze it to have for the holidays."

Customers commonly ask about the texture of different kinds of squash and how they're cooked, he says.

"Actually people have been developing a literacy with squash."

Squash can be prepared sweet or savory.

Simply peel squash and cut them into small pieces and roast in a bit of oil with honey and paprika.

Andres says the basic way to cook a squash is to cut it in half and dig out the seeds. Place it cut side down in a baking dish with about a half-inch of water and roast at 350 degrees until tender. Or you can stuff the squash -- and make a meal out of it.

Stuff it with brown rice, sunflower seeds, walnuts and celery and top it with a sprinkling of cheese, he says.

"We used to fill them up with maple syrup and brown sugar and make it like a dessert," says Andres. "They are almost like pie then, and you can have a lot of fun with them."

The delicata variety has an edible skin. You can cut them into discs and pan fry them in apple cider.

But be aware that cutting into squash, with their thick skin and solid flesh, can be tough, Andres warns.

"People seem to have a problem cutting it," says Andres. "But for the really, really big hard squash like hubbard, drop it on concrete and it will shatter."

For the smaller butternut and acorn varieties, Andres advises using a butcher knife to pierce it and then turn the knife downward so the squash splits.