If you’re looking to squash rumors about winter and summer varieties of your favorite vegetable*, look no further than this helpful guide. (*Squash is technically a fruit.) While summer squash and winter squash are obviously related, the primary differences lie in their maturity and growing times.
Summer squash is best consumed when its skin is soft and tender, while winter squash is best when its exterior is rigid and hard. Both depend entirely on their length of time on the vine, with the latter spending up to a whopping 120 days growing on the plant before being harvested (summer squash, by comparison, goes to the grocery store after only about 40-60 days on the vine).
Due to the difference in texture, it’s no surprise that summer squash and winter squash are appropriate in different dishes. Hardier winter squash is ideal for baking and stuffing (though zucchini can be stuffed and roasted too), while summer squash is better served sliced, chopped, and quickly sauteed or grilled—or even raw (not something you’d want to do with a sugar pumpkin).
They can both work in soups and stews, but more delicate summer squash will cook much more quickly. That said, even softer summer squash is good made in a slow cooker. Basically, you can cook you summer squash as long as you want or not at all, but your winter squash will always need more time in the oven, slow cooker, or soup pot to become tender, so plan accordingly.
Winter squash can be stored for several months outside of a refrigerator, while chilled summer squash must be eaten within a week or two of purchase.
Examples of summer squash include green and yellow zucchini, patty pan squash, crookneck squash, and cousa squash; all of these fall under the Cucurbita pepo species, but so do some hardier pumpkins. (While some types of winter squash are in other families, like Cucurbita maxima and Cucurbita moschata, almost all summer squash is classified as C. pepo.)
Examples of winter squash include butternut squash, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, kabocha squash, and pumpkin. (For more fall and winter squash varieties, check out our guide to gourds, from red kuri to cheese pumpkins.)
Since summer has officially arrived, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite summer squash recipes for you to enjoy in the coming months. When the cold returns again, we’ll be devoted to roasted delicata squash, fresh-baked pumpkin pie, and toasted pumpkin seeds, of course. But for now, all hail the mighty zucchini’s versatility in baking and cooking!
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