Summer Squash: Beyond Zucchini
One of summer’s unsung heroes is the humble squash. Their delicate skins and flesh cannot be waxed, and so they tend to have a short shelf life, and except for zucchini have all but disappeared from grocery stores. All the more reason to get thee to a farmers market!
A New World of Squash
There you will find tender and delicious yellow crooknecks, green and yellow zephyrs, multicolored scalloped pattypans, eightball zucchinis, delicate pale green Lebanese (Zahra) zucchini, and large mottled Italian heirloom zucchinis such as Costata Romanesca. And if you can’t decide, look for quart containers that many farmers stuff full of a medley of beautiful summer squashes.
Yellow Crookneck is one of the oldest documented varieties of squash. Researchers have traced its cultivation to the Lenape people who once inhabited the Delaware valley.
Pattypan squash also originated among the native people of the eastern United States. Both the white and yellow varieties date from pre-Colombian times. The first European settlers came to know it by a variety of names in the languages of different tribes. It soon made its way to Europe, and in France was called pâtisson panaché, which translates to “variegated squash,” but which turned into pattypan in English. The scalloped edges of these yellow, white, and/or green squash lend a festive look to any dish.
Zephyr is a relative newcomer – about the same size as the crookneck, but with a sturdy straight neck and a green bottom. It is a hybrid, with one parent being the yellow crookneck and the other a mixture of Delicata and Yellow Acorn, and delicious.
Lebanese Zucchini (also called Middle Eastern or Zahra) is shorter and plumper than regular zucchini, with an extremely delicate pale-jade skin. It’s almost impossible to get one without nicks and scratches, but don’t let those surface defects dissuade you from tasting the meltingly creamy flesh within.
Squashes of All Sizes
Size actually does matter in the world of summer squashes, but not as you might imagine. The large ones are good for stuffing and sautéing, the medium ones are great for grilling and for tons of other recipes from soup to cake, and the small ones, well . . . those itsy-bitsy squash are esteemed by chefs more for their looks than for their taste. Their cuteness diverts some from the reality that they are immature and often harsh-tasting.
But anything larger than itsy-bitsy is delicious, and as with all fresh vegetables, the simplest treatments are the best. Grilling is super-easy: just slice them longitudinally, brush with oil, sprinkle with salt, and slap on the grill. Or try the simple sautéd squash dish below.
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Sauteed Summer Squash with Herbs
This recipe works well with squash of any variety and any size, except for monstrous!
1/4 cup butter or olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon, parsley, or other herb
1 pound yellow crookneck or zephyr squash, sliced into 1/4-1/2-inch-thick rounds
1 pound pattypan, sliced in half, then place the cut surface on the board and cut into 1/4-1/2-inch slices
1. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic and herb; sauté until onion is just tender, about 2 minutes.
2. Add yellow squash and zucchini; sauté until tender, about 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 4 to 6.
Seasonal Cook’s Notes:
You can use any kind of summer squash in this recipe, and any kind of herb. Just be sure to cook the squash until tender, since that’s when you get their full flavor.
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