Packed with beta-carotene, vitamins A and C, potassium and iron, winter squash varieties are nutritional powerhouses. But cutting through their tough outer skins before baking – as most winter squash recipes suggest – can really be a pain.

Make it easier on yourself: Cook before you cut!

Put a big, sweet winter variety – stem and all – on a baking pan lined with foil or parchment paper. Bake at 400 degrees for about an hour, or until skin and flesh are soft enough to pierce easily with a fork or wooden skewer. After letting it cool for about a half hour, slice the squash in half and scoop out the seeds with a comfortable-to-grip ice-cream scoop.

Now that you’ve got the basics down, here’s a guide to preparing different varieties of this wonderful winter vegetable.

KABOCHA
BEST:
Mashed as a side dish
Sometimes the size of soccer balls, this green-skinned squash slices like a stick of butter when you roast it whole. After scooping out the seeds, spoon the naturally sweet flesh into a bowl and mash with a drizzle of honey or maple syrup. Cool and freeze any leftovers.

SUGAR PUMPKIN
BEST:
Pureed in desserts
Big, Halloween-style pumpkins can be stringy and not-so-flavorful. But small sugar pumpkins – the vegetables used for the canned pumpkin so popular in holiday desserts –are sweeter and firmer (not to mention easier to carry). Look for pumpkins that weigh three-and-a-half to four pounds, and trim long stems before putting in the oven. Puree flesh in a food processor, and use where you would use canned pumpkin.

DELICATA
BEST:
Sliced as a side dish
The relatively small, gorgeously striped, oblong delicata squash are easier to cut than most, so you don’t have to pre-bake these. The flesh isn’t as sweet as butternut, so try preparing them with a sweet spice rub: Cut 2 raw delicatas open lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and place on a baking sheet. Rub with 2 teaspoons olive oil, then sprinkle with a mixture of 2 teaspoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, and salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees, until soft. (And yes, you can eat the skin!)

HUBBARD
BEST:
Sliced as a side dish, or in soup
Since hubbard squash can grow huge – literally too big to lift, in some cases – they’re one of the few squash that’s easiest to find pre-cut. Even so, the leathery skin can be hard to cut through when raw. Look for slabs with light orange flesh and light greenish to grayish skin in your grocery store’s produce section, then simply rub with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast. Because it tastes like a cross between butternut squash and zucchini, hubbard does well with any seasonings you’d use for either. Try this recipe for Hubbard Squash and Apple Soup.

GOLDEN NUGGET
BEST:
Scooped right out of the shell
Golden nuggets look like miniature pumpkins, with skin that’s slightly darker and flesh that’s a bit sweeter. At 400 degrees, a whole softball-sized golden nugget takes 30 or 40 minutes. Slice roasted golden nuggets in half, scoop out the seeds and enjoy! You could also fill the roasted halves with soup.

BUTTERNUT
BEST:
As a filling, in soups or mashed
Roast a butternut squash for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on its size, let cool, peel, and chop the flesh for a creative filling. Try mixing roughly mashed butternut squash with black beans and cheese in enchiladas, spread it into a layer of lasagna (along with cooked spinach and ricotta cheese), or stir butternut cubes into minestrone soup.