Here is a sauté of fresh zucchini and herbs is a great way to kick off the summer zucchini and tender squash season:
Heat a few dabs of butter in a large skillet, add finely chopped yellow onion and brown lightly over high heat. Mix your choice of chopped fresh marjoram, snipped fresh dill, or cumin seed with unpeeled thin sliced zucchini and stir-fry with the onions for 1 minute. Cover and reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add a touch of salt just before serving.
Summer or tender squash can be sautéed, steamed, boiled, baked, puréed, or eaten raw.
The tender summer squashes–zucchini, Costata Romanesca, round and globe, scallop or pattypan, yellow crookneck and yellow straightneck, and Zephyr–mature during the summer and can be claimed as baby or mini-squashes in late spring.
Tender squashes are soft skinned and slice easily. They are mild flavored–even buttery, nutty, or cucumbery tasting. They are high in water content which means that they are perfect for eating raw or cooking quickly–but won’t store long.
Tender summer squashes are ready for picking as early as 7 days after flowering and are best eaten raw or cooked before they reach maturity while their skins and seeds remain soft and edible.
By contrast, winter or hard-skinned squashes–which get their start in the spring and summer along with summer squashes–can not be eaten before they mature. Their skins must grow hard and their flesh starchy before they are ready for cooking. (This, in turn, allows them to be stored and used into the winter–thus the name “winter squash.”
Here are some of the tender summer squashes you should consider:
• Zucchini is a smooth-skinned, cylindrical squash measuring 2½ to 8 inches (6.4-20 cm) long. The skin color is yellow but a concentration of green pigments gives it an appearance of pale and dark green stripes. Sometimes called the “classic zucchini”, this vegetable resembles a large cucumber. It has a cream-colored watery flesh that can be bland tasting. The name “zucchini” came into general use in California in the 1920s and 1930s. Before that the Italians referred to the same vegetable as “cocozelle” and the French and British called this vegetable “courgette.”
A more flavorful variety of zucchini is the golden zucchini which is the same size and shape as the classic green zucchini but with a glossy bright yellow skin. Golden zucchini has a light, buttery flavor.
• Costata Romanesca–sometimes called ribbed Roman zucchini and also called cocozelle–is an elongated slightly bell-shaped, pale green squash with raised ribs that measures 10 to 15 inches (25-38 cm) long and about 5 inches (13 cm) thick in diameter. The green skin is marked by light greenish-yellow stripes that run the length of the vegetable. Costata Romanesca is juicy and sweet flavored but does not keep long. Costata Romanesca is sometimes called marrow squash or vegetable marrow.
• Yellow crookneck and yellow straightneck squashes are bright yellow-skinned squashes that measure from 8 to 10 inches (20-25 cm) long with slightly swollen or bulbous bases that taper to slender necks. Their skins are slightly pebbly or warty and their flesh is off white. The crookneck variety has a swan-like neck. Both varieties have mild sweet to bland zucchini-like flavor and crunchy texture.
• Zephyr is a cross between the Delicata and yellow Acorn squashes with a slightly crooked neck about 5 to 8 inches (13-20 cm) long. This squash is bi-colored–pale green at the stem end and bright yellow most of the length. Zephyr has a somewhat sweet flavor.
• Scallop or pattypan–also called custard squash or cymling–is a saucer- or mushroom cap-shaped squash with a pale green skin bordering on white. It can also be golden yellow and white. This squash is best eaten when 3 to 4 inches (7.5-10 cm) in diameter. The flesh of the pattypan has less moisture than zucchini and becomes hard as it ripens, much like a winter squash. This squash is smooth fleshed but rather bland flavored. Cymling is an American Indian word for a white scalloped squash.
• Scallopini is similar in shape to pattypan with speckled green skin similar to a zucchini.
• Sunburst is a hybrid small- to medium-sized scalloped squash that looks something like a plump pattypan. It has a bright yellow skin and off-white meat with a delicate, mildly sweet flavor.
• Round zucchini or globe squash is about 5 inches (13 cm) in diameter with a skin of varying shades of green. This is a seedless and smooth textured squash that is nearly seedless. It is a juicy and flavorful squash with green tinted flesh.
• Tatume is an oval, egg-shaped, pale green squash about 5 inches (13 cm). This seedless, smooth-fleshed squash weighs about 1 pound (.45 kg) and has a slightly sweet flavor.
• Middle Eastern-type zucchini–also called Lebanese, Egyptian, Cousa, Kuta, and Magda–is a usually stocky, pale-green tapering squash about 5 inches (13 cm) long. It has a smooth, thick, dark green skin with a solid, crisp, moist and flavorful flesh.
• Baby squash or mini-squash is any squash harvested when very young.
Tender squashes are warm-season annuals. They are weak stemmed plants that usually grow as a bush. Tender squash have large, lobed cucumber-like leaves that are covered in small prickles.
The fruits of tender squashes are almost always eaten in the immature state before the skin hardens. Summer squash are for warm weather harvest and are eaten when immature.
Squashes are in the same family as the melon and cucumber. Cultivated squashes are descended from wild squashes which originated in the American tropics–between Mexico and Guatemala.
Squash has been cultivated for more than 10,000 years. The ancient Aztec, Incan, and Mayan peoples considered squash one of the “three sisters” that should be grown together–corn for its stalk, beans that climb the corn, and squash to creep along the surrounding ground to keep the weeds away.
The name squash is an abbreviation of the Native American word askutasquash meaning eaten raw or uncooked.
Choose. Select summer squashes that are still tender. Summer squashes that reach maturity will be drier with thicker skins. Choose firm, undamaged squashes with glossy skins free of cracks and blemishes. Select smaller to medium-sized specimens. Overly large squashes tend to be fibrous and bitter, and very small squashes can lack flavor.
Zucchini and crooknecks that are 5 to 10 inches (13-25 cm) long are good for slicing into rounds; those 3 to 5 inches (7.5-13 cm) long are best for use whole. Yellow varieties are best when 4 to 7 inches (10-18 cm) long.
Scallop or pattypan varieties are best when 3 to 5 inches (7.5-13 cm) in diameter.
Store. Tender squashes placed in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator will keep for about 1 week. Handle summer squash with care because it is easily damaged.
Summer squash can be frozen but the flesh will be softer when served. Cut the squash into slices and blanch for 2 minutes before freezing. Frozen squash will keep for 3 to 4 months.
Prepare. Before eating or cooking, wash and cut off both ends of the squash. Unless the skin is bitter, you do not have to peel tender squash.
Squash can be used whole, grated, halved, or cut into cubes, strips or slices. Trim the ends and cut into chunks or slice before cooking.
You can “drain” squash with high water content by cutting it into slices and arranging it in a shallow dish. Then sprinkle the slices uniformly with coarse salt and let drain for 20 to 30 minutes. Use a strainer and rinse the slices under cold running water, pat them dry, and proceed with your recipe.
Cook. Use raw tender squash as an addition to crudités trays and salads.
- Simmer until the flesh can be pierced easily with blade of knife. Whole or unpeeled squash should simmer for 10 to 20 minutes; pieces will cook in 5 to 10 minutes.
- Boil pieces cut into ½ to ¾ inch cubes; use little water; cook 10 to 15 minutes or until tender. Boiling can make squash taste watery and detract from its flavor.
- Boil whole, unpeeled squash covered with water for about 1 hour. First poke holes in the squash with a fork.
- Steam halves, slices, or pieces on a steam rack in a large saucepan until tender, about 15 to 40 minutes.
- Sauté or stir-fry cut pieces coated with batter until the pieces are tender.
- Pan-fry or deep fat-fry cubes or slices coated in a wet batter, dipped batter, or seasoned dry coating until the crust is golden brown.
- Bake 10 to 45 minutes depending upon the size: halves will cook faster if placed flesh side down and baked for about half the time, then turned and basted with butter or margarine. Or cut unpeeled squash in half or quarters, remove seeds, put a little oil or butter in the cavity, add salt and pepper or seasoning, pour a little water, orange juice, or lemon juice in the cavity, place in a baking dish with ¾ to 2 inches of water and bake for 30 to 60 minutes or until tender.
- Microwave halves after the seeds have been removed. Cover the halved squash with plastic wrap; leave one corner open, cook on high until tender 10 to 15 minutes.
Serve. Tender, summer squash can be eaten raw or cooked.
- Serve sliced raw tender squash with a dip. Slice thinly and add to appetizers, salads, or sandwiches.
- Grate raw squash and mix with eggs, flour, and seasonings to make crêpes.
- Use in entirety or slice then steam, boil, broil, bake, or grill.
- Coat with butter, wrap in foil, then barbeque or bake.
- Halve then stuff with a meat or rice mixture, or bake with butter and Parmesan cheese.
- Pan-fry slices.
- Sauté half moons in olive oil with garlic, onions, or tomatoes.
- Add sliced zucchini and mushrooms to a thick tomato sauce for spaghetti.
- Stuff and bake.
- Serve gratinéed (with butter and bread crumbs), braised, fried in batter or bread crumbs or roasted.
- Add to soups, stews, quiches, or omelets.
- Brush with olive oil and grill.
Summer squashes can replace cucumber in most recipes but are less flavorful.
Squash flowers are edible with a delicate flavor and aroma. Quickly sauté blossoms over high heat or stuff and bake.
Flavor partners. Tender squash has a flavor affinity for basil, chives, corn, dill, eggplant, feta, fish, garlic, marjoram, mint, mozzarella, olive oil, goat cheese, onion, oregano, pasta, rice, thyme, and tomatoes.
Season tender squash with salt, pepper, onion, garlic, basil, dill, mustard, oregano, thyme, parsley, marjoram, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, mace, cloves, coriander, cumin, curry powder, anise, rosemary, or fennel.
Serve with tender squash alone or topped with plain or flavored butter or margarine or with white sauce.
Nutrition. Summer squash is a good source of vitamin A and C and niacin. A cooked half-cup of tender squash contains 14 calories.
The botanical name for tender squash is Cucurbita pepo.
Tips on growing summer squash at How to Grow Zucchini and Summer Squash.