Summer squash are another New World food. Zucchini which were known as cocozelle in Italy, were bred there and brought here by immigrants, where the name migrated to the Tuscan name zucchini in the 1920s.
How to Purchase and Store Summer Squash
- When choosing summer squash, they should feel dense and heavy for their size, and be firm, never spongy.
- Check the end away from the stem. There is a small circular “scar”— the whiter that is the fresher the squash.
- Avoid bruised or cut squash. Cousa usually have some light spotting on the skin, but it does not seem to affect the flesh.
- Store in plastic bags or tubs lined with paper towels if not using right away. Condensation in storage can cause the squash to rot quickly.
- Use squash blossoms within a day or two. If you don’t get to them soon, store them in a paper towel lined container, and if the container does not seal tightly, put it in a plastic bag that is sealed.
- Avoid the coldest part of the refrigerator for both blossoms and fruit. They will be happiest cool, not cold.
Summer Squash Flavors
When it comes to flavor, here are some generalizations:
- Zucchini will have a stronger flavor with a tinge of bitterness to them.
- Yellow squash, especially Butterstick, are a little sweeter and tend to stay firmer longer when cooking.
- Pale green Cousa have a nutty flavor tinged with sweetness and a firm texture.
- Costata Romanesca squash with light and dark stripes and ridges has a texture that stays firmer during cooking and is nutty, sweeter than the others, and has a distinct “squash” flavor that is valued.
- Crookneck has a nutty quality with a buttery texture (that can quickly turn to mushy, so be careful with the cooking time), and the pattypan squash follow along the same lines as the zucchini, yellow, and cousa types.
- Unless you are buying pattypan squash(a.k.a. as “scalloped”) at a farmers market, there is a good chance the flavor will be insipid and the texture may be flabby as they do not keep as well as the zucchini type. There is a pattypan zucchini hybrid called “Scallopini” which is a green between the pale Cousa and dark zucchini green that is considered the best for flavor and texture, so look for these.
- If you come across a crookneck squash that appears warty, try it. This is how all the crookneck squash used to look, and the flavor is sweeter and the skin has a bit of crunch to it as well. These squash were seen being eaten by Indians in reports from Lewis and Clark, and Thomas Jefferson grew some from seeds that he was presented as representing “our best squash” by a family that had been cultivating it for nearly a century.
- Always wash well before using. Squash tend to be dusty and can be covered with a fine fuzzy/prickly layer that is unpleasant to eat.
- When cutting zucchini type squash, vary the cuts depending on the dish. Try doing oblique or roll cuts for braises, thick diagonal slices for grilling, and chunks for sautés.
- For grilling, halve lengthwise and crisscross score the surface so oil and flavorings get inside, or cut again lengthwise for more surface area to pick up flavor. These are easier to manipulate on the grill than smaller flat pieces.
- Use a mandolin to cut ribbons or strands to make “pasta” of the squash.
- For pattypan types, cut into wedge shapes, or use a melon baller to scoop out the center and stuff before roasting.
- When it comes to crookneck, you are best served by halving the squash lengthwise before cutting it into even sized pieces for uniform cooking.
- To prep squash blossoms, remove the tough calyx if present. It is up to you whether you remove the stigma/anther from the center. Wipe off the blossom or dip in water and then dry on paper towels. For stuffing, snip the bottom off close to the flower base, but do not remove the base. If you are shredding the flowers, go ahead and open the up, otherwise handle carefully to keep them whole.
Methods for Cooking Squash
When sautéing squash dry, once you have them nicely browned, you may find they are not cooked enough. Add an ounce or two of liquid and cover the pan. The liquid will turn to steam and will act with the moisture in the squash to steam them through. Don’t use too much liquid or you will stew the vegetable.
Summer squash can be marinated. Using a seasoned oil will flavor the squash without adding liquid, which helps prevent it from breaking down quickly. If you wish to use liquid such as lemon juice or wine, go lightly with the volume of liquid, keep the time on the shorter side (an hour or two), and/or add some oil to help mitigate the breakdown of the flesh.
Like eggplant, summer squash can be salted to “draw out” some of the moisture. This will soften the squash, rendering it tender without cooking. This is good for salads where you want the squash pliable but not really soft. This is the technique for making Summer Squash Carpaccio, and is sometimes used before grilling squash where all you want to do is flavor the squash with smoke and char from the grate.