Vegetable of the Month: Summer Squash

‘Tis the season…for summer squash! With just 19 calories per cup and fresh, sunny flavor, zucchini, pattypan, and other squash are a delicious and light treat for the summer months.

Summer Squash from South Central Farmers’ Cooperative

Background & History

Squash have been enjoyed for thousands of years; squash remains have been found in caves in Mexico and dated back to 8000 BC. Indigenous to the Americas, squash, along with maize and beans, were among the first plants domesticated by Native Americans. American colonists developed the word “squash” from the Narragansett Native American word “askutasquash,” meaning “something eaten raw or uncooked.”

After the American Indians introduced squash to European settlers, squash seeds crossed the Atlantic, were further cultivated, and eventually returned to North America. Zucchini, for example, developed near Milan, Italy in the late 19th century from originally American seeds and was introduced to the US in the 1920s.

Today, summer squash are grown all over the world, including most of California, and are best (and all over local farmers’ markets) between May and August.

Characteristics & Types

Like melons and cucumbers, summer squash are gourds that, botanically speaking, are considered fruits. They are more than 95% water but still a good source of nutrients like vitamins A and C, niacin, folate, and potassium when eaten with the skin–so don’t peel your zucchini!

Zucchini, which come in green, gold, or gray, are the most popular summer squash, but others in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes abound, including:

  • Pattypan, also known as cymling or scallop squash: green-white, disk-shaped squash with white, tender flesh;

  • Yellow straightneck;

  • Yellow crookneck: bottle-shaped squash with yellow flesh; and

  • Chayote (rhymes with “coyote”): green or white pear-shaped squash with ridged skin.

Tips & How to Enjoy

To select summer squash at the farmers’ market, look for squash that is tender and firm with glossy skin, avoiding squash with discoloration, pits, or bruises. Store your unwashed (dry) squash in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for up to a week.

When you’re ready to enjoy your squash, wash well and trim the ends. Summer squash do not need to be peeled or seeded and can be enjoyed raw. Of course, you can also bake, boil, grill, microwave, sauté, steam, or stir-fry squash. They can make dishes watery, however, so it may be helpful to first salt and drain some of the liquid before using. (University of California Master Gardener Paula Sayer gives detailed instructions on how to prepare squash seven different ways here.) And for new ideas on using squash in recipes like a summer squash, yogurt, and tahini dip, summer squash gratin, or a chilled yogurt soup with mint, the New York Times’s Martha Rose Shulman offers many creative recipes.

You can read more about summer squash here:

http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/ssquash.cfm

http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/health/series/recipes_for_health/summer_squash/index.html

http://vric.ucdavis.edu/pdf/squashsm.pdf

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