Stop by any farmers market this time of year, and you’ll find oodles of beautiful, freshly-harvested summer squash. But with countless varieties to choose from, how to choose which to take home? Our comprehensive guide will help you make the most of this squash season.
Back to Basics: Zucchini and Yellow Squash
There’s a reason we’re all familiar with these quintessential summer squashes: they’re easy to grow and perfectly average in almost every way, which makes them absurdly common and beautifully versatile. With a somewhat sweet flavor and a decently thick skin, zucchini and yellow squash can be incorporated into tons of delicious summer recipes. They’ll neither overpower nor go completely unnoticed in whatever you’re cooking; instead they’re more likely to be a favored “supporting actor” for summer dishes. Try either variety (or opt for the less common, slightly sweeter, but equally versatile golden zucchini) sauteed in real butter, shredded into salads, sliced for dipping, spiraled into fresh veggie noodles, incorporated into casseroles, or baked into everyone’s favorite - zucchini bread.
Embrace the Exotic: Patty Pans, Globes, and Zephyrs - Oh My!
Though we love our zucchini and yellow squash, a quick trip to the farmers’ markets reveals summer squashes come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Instead of sticking with the basics this season, jazz up your summertime meals (and convince your friends and family you’re a five-star chef!) by reaching for some of the more unusual summer squashes.
Patty Pans: aka Scallop Squash, Peter Pans, Granny Squash, or Sunburst Squash
Fun to look at with round with bumpy, scalloped edges, patty pan squashes range in color from creamy pale green to bright yellow. Don’t be fooled by their hue, though - they all taste about the same with a mild squash flavor. With a thicker skin than zucchini or yellow squash, patty pans will easily hold up in soups, stews, and chilis. You can also grill or roast them without worrying that they’ll disintegrate into mush (as yellow squash in particular is prone to do).
Globes: aka Round or Eight Ball Zucchini
These short and squat squashes share zucchini’s color and mild flavor but offer a unique shape. Thanks to their round nature, globes are the perfect summer replacement for heavy bread bowls. Simply slice off the top, scoop out the seeds, and fill with a cold summer soup.
Zephyrs: One of a Kind
Similar to the patty pans in texture but with a straight, more traditional squash shape, zephyr squash stands out with its unusual, dual-tone coloring. With a yellow top half and a pale green bottom, zephyrs are firmer than either yellow squash or zucchini, and, like patty pans, they hold up well to longer cook times or high-heat grilling.
Selecting and Storing
So now that you’ve got your eye on the right varietals, how do you make sure you choose quality squash - and once you’ve carefully selected your produce, how do you ensure it lasts long enough for you to cook it all?
It starts with careful produce selection. While summer squashes grow quickly and can get quite large, smaller is actually better when it comes to squash. As the fruit matures, the plants funnel their nutrients into their seeds, so the longer a squash is on the vine, the woodier and less flavorful it becomes. Once you’ve found small, firm squash, seek out bright pigmentation and smooth skin (wrinkles are a sign of age, even for squash!). Carefully check each squash for bruises, mold, or soft or wet spots (precursors to rot) before loading up your reusable bag.
You’ll want to use your purchase quickly. Unlike their winter counterparts (butternut squash, acorn squash, pumpkins, and the like), summer squash has a short shelf life and will only keep for a few days. To maximize storage time, ensure your squash is dry, then store it in your refrigerator's crisper drawer in a plastic bag. If summer’s abundance is proving too much to use before it spoils, you can also freeze summer squash by slicing it, blanching, and packing it in sealed freezer bags. For slightly firmer squashes like zucchini or patty pan, you can also grate and freeze raw - simply drain away the liquid released when you thaw it out for use.
Variety Is Spice
With so many beautiful squashes available, step outside your comfort zone this summer! Grab a few locally-grown zephyrs or patty pans, and try swapping them into some of your favorite zucchini or yellow squash recipes. If you’ve purchased more than you can readily eat (easy to do when we have such fantastic local farmers sharing their abundant harvests at market), choose recipes, such as zucchini relish (a favorite of ours!) that allow you to can or freeze the extra. You can easily enjoy summer squash deliciousness well into the fall and winter.
Does DIY sound like too much work? Making It Real has you covered! We’ll hit the markets for you as we prepare local, organic meals that define farm to table. All you have to do is place your weekly order.