Image: Laura Padgett
Tender and sweet, the gentle summer squash is a seasonal treat that can be prepared in a delicious variety of methods. Summer squash are harvested when they are immature, while the rind is still edible, and these fruits—not vegetables—have a very short shelf life compared to winter squash, which will stay fresh in a cold, dark basement for months and months.
Summer squash come in five varieties, each with particular characteristics that make it best suited for different types of cooking and preparation. You’re probably familiar with pretty green zucchini squash and bright yellow summer squash, but have you ever tried to cook with cousas or pattypans? Discover a world of flavor when you explore the many sides of summer squash – but hurry, before summer is over and the best local vegetables are gone!
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The most popular summer squash, zucchinis come in various shades of green and golden-yellow. Known as a courgette in many parts of the world, zucchini squash can grow up to a meter in length, however most are less than eight inches long. While all squashes originated in the New World, the zucchini reached its greatness thanks to the chefs of Italy. Taking its name from the Italian word for small pumpkin, zucchina, this slick, squeaky squash appears in numerous Italian dishes and often comes with an edible blossom attached. Slice zucchini and sauté it quickly in olive oil, shred it and add to cakes and baking recipes, or steam it with a shake of salt and pepper for a healthy side dish.
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Yellow Crookneck Squash
It is believed that Lewis and Clark encountered these golden beauties on their explorations west in early America. With a bumpy yellow-orange rind, a curved neck and sweet flesh, this squash tastes more like winter squash than its summery cousins. Yellow crookneck squashes taste best when grilled – just slice them into ½” pieces, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and then grill for 5 minutes on each side or until tender.
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Yellow Summer Squash
These little yellow friends are usually smaller and juicier than their crookneck cousins, and might be called straightneck squash – although they sometimes have a curve as well. Yellow summer squash have smooth and tender skins, and can be used interchangeably with zucchini. Slice into wheels and steam, sauté, or sprinkle with corn meal and fry with rounds of potato for a hot and starchy treat.
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The smallest in the summer squash family, round pattypan squash have scalloped edges and are shaped like tiny spaceships. Available in yellow, white or pale green varieties, pattypans can be pickled in sweet vinegar (a Polish treat) or stuffed. For the latter, simply scoop out the flesh, flavor with seasonings like garlic and hot pepper, then return it to the hull and bake for 15-20 minutes.
Image: Summer Tomato
Cousa is the most rare variety of summer squash, and looks like a fat, pale green zucchini. Slightly sweeter than zucchini and with a thinner skin, Cousa Squash are often used in ethnic cooking: Syrian, Lebanese and Mexican. Try this delicate squash raw, and discover a fresh taste for the summer. You can also substitute the cousa squash anytime you would normally use zucchini.
image by La Grande Farmer's Market