The summertime squashes provide infinite variety to chefs and cooks, ranging from petite baby zucchini and pattypans to fully grown varieties. They are full of flavor and nutritious vitamins and minerals, not to mention being a fantastic source of fiber.
DESCRIPTION: The cucumber family, to which squashes belong, probably has the greatest diversity of shapes and sizes of any vegetable family except the cabbages.
It’s the genus Cucurbita and includes certain gourds and pumpkins, as well as squashes. Most are trailing or climbing plants with large yellow flowers (both male and female); the mature fruits have a thick skin and a definite seed cavity. “Summer squash,” “Winter squash,” and “Pumpkin” are not definite botanical names. “Pumpkin,” which any child can tell you is a large vegetable used for jack-o-lanterns and pies, is applied to long-keeping varieties of C. Moschata, C. pepo, and a few varieties of C. maxima. Summer squashes are eaten when they are immature; winter squashes are eaten when mature.
Squashes are hard to confine. A bush-type zucchini will grow well in a tire planter if kept well watered and fertilized; a vining squash can be trained up a fence. Summer squashes are week-stemmed, tender annuals, with large, cucumber-like leaves and separate male and female flowers that appear on the same plant. Summer squash usually grows as a bush, rather than as a vine; the fruits have thin, tender skin and are generally eaten in the immature stage before the skin hardens. The most popular of the many kinds of summer squashes are crookneck, straightneck, scallop, and zucchini.
SUMMER SQUASH: also called; Soft-skinned squash
VARIETIES: Zucchini (green and yellow), Pattypan, Yellow, crookneck
LOOK FOR: Young squash heavy for their size, with smooth skin, no soft spots or blemishes.
TO STORE: Refrigerate; use within a few days.
TO PREPARE: Scrub gently using a soft brush, with running cold water. Cut a slice from each end. Do not remove seeds or skin if tender and young. Cut into the shape desired.
TO COOK: In a saucepan over high heat, in 1/2 inch of boiling water, heat squash to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover; simmer halved squash 5 minutes, sliced for 3 minutes. They may be grilled, boiled, baked, broiled, stewed and cooked by other means.
WHEN AND HOW TO HARVEST: Time from planting to harvest depends on the variety, as does the yield you can expect. Harvest summer squashes when they’re young–they taste delicious when they’re small, and if you leave them on the plant too long they will suppress flowering and reduce your crop. Harvest summer squashes like the zucchini and crookneck varieties when they’re six to eight inches long; harvest the round types when they’re four to eight inches in diameter. Break the squashes from the plant, or use a knife that you clean after cutting each one; if the knife is not perfectly clean, it can spread disease to other plants.
STORING AND PRESERVING Summer squashes can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week; don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them. They can also be frozen, canned, pickled, or dried.
SERVINGS SUGGESTIONS Summer squashes lend themselves to a good variety of culinary treatments. Saute slices of summer squash with onions and tomatoes for a robust but delicately flavored side dish.
Add sliced zucchini and mushrooms to a thick tomato sauce for spaghetti. Halve summer squashes and stuff with a meat or rice mixture, or bake them with butter and Parmesan cheese. Pan-fry slices of summer squash, or simmer them with fruit juice for a new flavor.
Use the popular zucchini raw on a relish tray and among vegetables for a tempura, or slice it thinly in salads. Use the larger fruit for making zucchini bread.