Friday, July 10, 2015

Summer Squash 101

Summer squash is a category of squashes that are immature and have a tender and edible rind. Almost all varieties are Cucurbita pepo. They are related to pumpkins, cucumbers and melons. Most summer squashes grow in a bushy manner where winter squashes are more vine-like. They are an easy to grow, short season crop that has been adapted to temperate and subtropical climates. Their water content is to high for hot and arid climates. Summer squash is harvested when the skin is shiny. If allowed to mature, the fruit will become dull and is usually rendered unsaleable. Summer squash season is typically July, August, September and October.

The term pumpkin is rooted in Greek and Latin and stands for a large, round fruit but summer squash comes from the Native American word askutasquash that stands for eaten raw or uncooked. While domesticated thousands of years ago, C. Pepo is native to the Untied States and Mexico. There is archaeological evidence of squash production in Southern Mexico dating back 10,000 years. Squash was a staple food for the Native Americans and was incorporated quickly into the diets of the early European colonists. Roger Williams, the founder of the Rhode Island Colony, called them “Vine apples of many colors.”  Squash was so popular in the Untied States that even George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew squash abundantly on their plantations. Though native to the America’s, one third of the worlds production comes from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries like Turkey, Italy, Spain and Egypt.

Summer squash appears in many fruit shapes and colors and almost all varieties are native to the Americas. 

According to Wikipeda “ Summer squashes include:
- Cousa squash, pale-colored Zucchini varieties purportedly of Middle Eastern or West Asian descent. Not to be confused with Cushaw, a type of winter squash.
- Pattypan squash (Scallop squash)
- Tromboncino or Zucchetta, unusual among summer squash as being a vining plant and a Cucurbita moschata variety.[1]
- Yellow crookneck squash
- Yellow summer squash
- Zucchini (courgette)
- Immature Ridge gourd luffa is used as a summer squash in India, where it is known as turai or dodka.”

For an extensive list of summer squash varieties check out this page from Cornell University and check out this visual guide from The Kitchn.

The entire squash is edible including the flesh, skin and seeds. Considered a delicacy, don’t forget about the zucchini blossom. They are especially delicious deep fried. Check out this recipe for Beer Battered Zucchini Blossoms from Bon Appetit. Did you know that one zucchini is called a zucchina? For more fun facts about Zucchini which was brought to the United States from Italy, go to this fun page from Mobile Cuisine.

To Store

Do not wash summer squash before storing in the refrigerator. Whole squash will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days. Click here for a step by step tutorial for freezing your summer squash from Pick Your Own.

To Nourish

High in Vitamin C, B1, K, B6 and B3 summer squash is nutrient packed. Squash also has high levels of Copper, Manganese, Fiber, Phosphorus, Potassium and Folate. Summer squash is loaded with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. It helps to regulate blood sugar and provides anti-microbial protection and promotes prostate health with overall health benefits. For more about the health benefits of summer squash go here.

To Prepare

Summer squash can be grilled, steamed, boiled, sautéed, fried or used in stir fry recipes. They pair well with onions, tomatoes and okra. All summer squash varieties can be used interchangeably in most recipes. Tiny baby squash can be used as appetizers, or left whole and sautéed with other vegetables. Don't throw away the male squash blossoms if you grow your own. If you do not have the time or desire to prepare them separately, toss them in the salad bowl or add to any squash preparation. Canning is not recommended because the tender summer squash will simply turn to mush during processing, unless you are making pickles. Zucchini can be substituted for cucumbers in some pickle recipes. The results are especially good in your favorite recipes for Bread and Butter Pickles. Blanch and freeze cubes or slices of summer squash or grate and freeze Zucchini, un-blanched for making Zucchini bread. The best way to use over grown (10 to 12 inches) zucchini is to grate it and use in zucchini bread. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and cut away the seedy middle section. Wash, grate and freeze in one cup portions. Use zip closure freezer bags or rigid freezer containers leaving 1/2 inch head space. Oversize zucchini can also be used to make zucchini chutney. Check out these recipes ideas from Mariquita Farms that look delish. And here are six ways to preserve zucchini from Food in Jars.

To Try

Zucchini Butter

To Use

The Sur La Table Vegetable and Fruit Spiral Slicer offers a new twist on healthy cooking. A simple turn of the handle delivers effortless vegetable spirals that would be at home in the pages of your favorite foodie magazine. Create delicious fresh zucchini noodles—“zoodles” to their fans—quick and easy curly fries, shredded carrots and cabbage for cole slaw, decorative garnishes and more. For best results, slice off the end of the vegetable being cut to provide a secure grip. Comes with interchangeable blades to create three different textures: ribbons, thick spirals and thin spirals or shreds. (Sur La Table, $24.95)