Winter’s vegetable bounty can seem a little sad, and its most abundant offering–winter squash–can be daunting to even the most seasoned home cooks. But the fact is, says Michael Anthony, executive chef and partner of New York City’s Gramercy Tavern and Untitled and author of the new book V Is for Vegetables, most are a breeze to prepare.
“The thing to get over with vegetable cookery, especially with squash, is sometimes it looks intimidating,” he says. “We have a hard time looking at a squash and saying, ‘I can imagine how that’s going to make a steamy, seductive, delicious dinner in no time.'” But among Anthony’s favorite preparations, these five deserve a second glance. Squash is inexpensive and a good source of vitamins A and C as well as fiber. Plus, some varieties can last for weeks on the kitchen counter. “A lot of times, they’re so weird-looking or beautiful that they become decorative,” he says. “Boxes of cereal don’t communicate warmth and family values like something as gorgeous as a squash.”
With a rich flavor and grainy flesh, kabocha is also quite sweet. To make soup, sweat down onions and garlic in olive oil, add big chunks of peeled kabocha and simmer in chicken broth until tender. Then put into blender and puree. Add more liquid as needed.
Smaller ones can be eaten with the peel on. To cook, mix equal parts flour, cornstarch and cold water to make tempura batter. Coat squash slices and dip into 3 inches of hot oil to make fritters.
To turn the flesh into “noodles,” just cut in half, roast 35 minutes at 375°F and scrape out the insides with a fork. Season with butter, salt, lemon juice and olive oil; serve under roasted fish.
A smaller, lighter squash, the acorn can double as an edible dinner bowl. Cut in half, scoop out seeds and season with olive oil, salt, pepper and smoked paprika. Roast 35 to 40 minutes at 350°F, then fill with wild rice and braised kale or other greens.
Cook peeled chunks in butter, brown sugar, water and salt until tender. Toss with pine nuts and raisins; spoon onto cabbage salad.
This appears in the February 15, 2016 issue of TIME.