by Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist
What would summer be like without a bounty of summer squash? We welcome it every year though many gardeners are relieved when the season comes to an end since it’s one of the most prolific vegetables—it grows fast and furious once the plants start producing. With its delicate and mild flavor and ability to complement any meal, summer squash is always popular. I enjoy using it in my cooking and try to put it in almost everything from soups to desserts while it’s in season. Zucchini is my most favorite of all summer squash since my mother cooked with it frequently when I was growing up. Ever versatile, summer squash can be used in either cooked or raw form and in sweet or savory recipes—a good thing when there is such an ample supply of it.
Summer squash is a gourd and in the same family as winter squash, cucumbers, and melons. But unlike winter squash, it is harvested when immature and has a tender and edible rind. Due to its high water content, summer squash must be consumed soon after harvesting, otherwise it often shrivels and its firm quality is soon lost. Summer squash is native to the Americas and along with beans and corn was a staple among Native Americans for many years.
Summer squash does not have as nearly as high a nutritional profile as its winter counterpart but does provide some good antioxidants, carotenoids, fiber, B vitamins, and potassium. Summer squash is a good source of starchy carbohydrates, which are made up of specially structured pectins that have been shown to protect against diabetes and help with regulation of insulin as well. The antioxidants—specifically carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin—are found right underneath the surface so keep that skin on when you eat it. Eat the whole vegetable including the seeds, which provide small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, to obtain the maximum nutritional benefits. Steaming the squash has been shown to best preserve its antioxidant activity.
Summer squashes are a feast for the eyes when many varieties are presented on a plate since it’s not only the colors but the shapes and sizes that are appealing. The most common squash grown around here are zucchini, yellow crookneck or straightneck, and patty pan. They come in many shades of green, white, and yellow. When buying summer squash, choose ones that are firm, solid, and small. Large squashes are often available free for the taking from neighbors and friends when there is a bounty and squash plants are going out of control. These are great for stuffing with all kinds of things—vegetables, rice, meats, poultry, or beans—let your imagination run wild!!
Summer squash’s versatility and mild taste means it can be used in many different kinds of recipes, but the main thing to keep in mind is its high moisture content, so it should be steamed lightly before adding it to dishes like lasagna or quiche otherwise the end product can be watery. My favorite way to prepare any variety of summer squash is by lightly sautéing it with olive oil and minced garlic and adding Parmesan cheese at the end. Other simple ideas are adding it to soups and stews, grating it raw in salads for slaws, grilling or adding it to stir-fries, or using it in muffins, cookies, breads, or even pancakes. An oversupply of zucchini can be cooked, puréed, and frozen for winter use. Enjoy the recipe on the next page that was shared by a friend—it takes a little time but is very delicious!