You probably already know that eating seasonally and locally  is better for you, your bank account, and the planet. But as more and more leaves drop from the trees and the icy chill of winter begins to beckon, it’s easy to forget that even in Chicago there are still opportunities to enjoy fresh, local produce at peak flavor. Few vegetables scream “fall” louder than squash. And fortunately for us Midwesterners, we’re graced with a plethora of different squash varietals this time of year, each with their own unique personality. With so many types to choose from though, the problem quickly becomes, how do I use them all? Fear not, squash lovers, here are seven hearty squash recipes — perfect for cozy dinners in on those increasingly chilly nights — that showcase the character and versatility of this beloved ingredient in many of its most popular forms.
Perhaps the most recognizable of the squash family, butternut is a user-friendly varietal that is easy to prep, cooks quickly, and is incredibly rich in taste. It has also proven to be a great vegan hack for traditionally dairy-based dishes, like this Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese from Simple Vegan Blog . Instead of loading on the cheese and cream, this recipe uses a puree of steamed butternut squash, flavored with onion/garlic powders, lemon juice, and nutritional yeast to achieve that creamy texture and distinct umami flavor. Toss with your pasta of choice for a healthy yet satisfying take on everybody’s favorite comfort food. Get the recipe on Simple Vegan Blog .
Few foods excite me more come fall than the arrival of delicata squash. This striped, oblong varietal is much smaller than many of its counterparts, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in flavor. The Minimalist Baker ’s Delicata Squash Bake is a stress-free recipe that highlights the essence of delicata without much fuss. The squash are halved, seeded and sliced thinly before being arranged in rows in a baking dish. The squash slices are then brushed with melted coconut oil and a hefty pinch of salt before being baked to tender, caramelized perfection. The whole tray then gets topped off with a three-ingredient tahini dressing as well as pomegranate seeds and chopped, roasted hazelnuts for a bit of crunch. Pull on this recipe as an easy vegetarian/vegan  main course or seasonal side dish paired with roast chicken or pan-seared fish. Get the recipe on The Minimalist Baker .
In the world of vegetable-based noodles (i.e. zucchini, sweet potato, beet, etc.), spaghetti squash is the original leader of the pack. Unlike the previously mentioned varietals on this list, spaghetti squash achieves a ribbony rather than creamy texture when cooked, making it a fiber-packed, gluten-free pasta replacement. Pickled Plum ’s Garlic Parmesan Spaghetti Squash with Mushrooms is a great place to start if you’re new to this ingredient, thanks to the recipe’s simple preparation and short ingredient list. The squash itself is first cut in half lengthwise and baked until it can easily be pierced with a knife. After cooling, the seeds are removed and the flesh is scooped out and combined with a mixture of sautéed button mushrooms, fresh thyme, and lots of parmesan cheese. The epitome of a savory entrée with loads of nutritional value. Get the recipe on Pickled Plum .
Ambercup is a lesser-known varietal in the squash world, but it is definitely worth adding to your repertoire. It’s an easy one to identify thanks to its rich orange color and flattened-pumpkin-like appearance. While it is slightly more laborious to prep given its tough outer peel, it cooks up in no time and delivers in a big way on the flavor front. This Roasted Ambercup Squash with Brown Butter recipe from Oh My Veggies  is a simple way to enhance the natural flavor of the squash with little to no fuss. Chunks of the squash are roasted in a 400-degree oven with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper until caramelized and tender before being sprinkled with brown butter and sage. In the words of Ina Garten, “How bad can that be?” Get the recipe on Oh My Veggies .
You may have seen kabocha squash listed at your favorite Japanese restaurant, which is fitting as it is alternately referred to as Japanese pumpkin. This striking green squash looks very similar to a small pumpkin and boasts a flavor more reminiscent of sweet potato than squash. Lindsey Love of Dolly and Oatmeal  elevates this delectable squash into a silky pureed soup along with fennel, leeks, loads of fresh ginger, and coconut cream to add body and depth. Topped with poppy seeds and fennel fronds, you’ve got yourself an elegant fall lunch or light starter before dinner. Get the recipe on Dolly and Oatmeal .
Though you might opt to make many of the recipes on this list supporting players come mealtime, squash is more than capable of playing a starring role as well. Case in point: acorn squash. Given its small size and deep center, acorn squash is a perfect receptacle for all sorts of savory stuffings, helping to elevate it to entrée status. Yummy Mummy Kitchen ’s Mushroom Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash combines loads of fall flavors with a stuffing of sautéed cremini mushrooms, fluffy quinoa, onion, garlic, fresh thyme, and a combination of soy sauce and white wine vinegar for some bite. The mixture then gets stuffed into a roasted acorn squash before getting topped with pepitas and pomegranate seeds. A showstopper vegan main that is as beautiful as it is delicious. Get the recipe on Yummy Mummy Kitchen .
Its hard to miss red kuri squash when you see it — the bright orange rind looks like that of a small round pumpkin with its contrast turned up. And red kuri squash’s mellow sweetness and nutty, chestnut-like flavor make it a welcome addition to all sorts of dishes. This Red Kuri Squash Curry from Erin Alderson of Naturally Ella  puts the squash at the forefront. Small chunks of the prepped squash get mixed with aromatics like onion, garlic, and ginger as well as a healthy dose of curry powder. The vegetables then get simmered in a combination of coconut milk and vegetable broth until the squash is fork tender. Ribbons of Swiss chard and fresh cilantro are added at the very end for a bright pop of green and a burst of verdant freshness. An excellent make-ahead meal that only gets better as it sits in the fridge throughout the week. Get the recipe on Naturally Ella .
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- 10 Ethnic Restaurants Around Chicago to Visit Right Now 
Maddie LaKind is a Chicago-born personal chef, caterer and writer. Her love of gastronomy began with an introduction to the Food Network as a teenager and has since blossomed into a deep-rooted passion. She spent her early career in the food world working at the famed Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, before moving on to other notable spots including Detroit’s Sister Pie bakery, and Floriole Bakery, Read It and Eat bookstore and The Social Table in Chicago. In her spare time, she can be found practicing yoga, hosting dinner parties for friends and sifting through her ever-growing cookbook collection. Maddie is also a supporter of PAWS Chicago . Since adopting her two cats from the shelter, she has served as a volunteer and donated her cooking services as an auction item at fundraisers.