I love squash. From the moment I set the starts in place, I get a kick from the exuberance of squash spouts, the luxuriant foliage, and the crisp, slightly salty snap of the questing shoot tips. Shoot tips? Yes, really; they add a refreshing new element to salads and stir fries and pruning those long, sprawling arms can help to dial back some of that familial joyous abandon. This year I planted two kinds of summer squash; a classic green zucchini and a pale yellow version gifted to me by a friend whose grandparents grew it in Italy. Well! No surprise, both are prolific, already producing more than I can keep up with.
Sadly, nobody else in my family appreciates summer squash. My daughter diplomatically offered to eat any that I could add to dishes where she wouldn’t have to notice. My son and his wife both ardently denied any interest in taking a few home. Dang! How can I have failed to pass along my deep love for summer squash? Yes, I know, there’s always zucchini bread, but that seems like a sorry way to treat this delicious vegetable, as if it could only be palatable if blended invisibly with lots of sugar and butter. Not that there’s anything wrong with sugar and butter, mind you. But let’s consider ways to make this humble vegetable shine as well as ways to use it unobtrusively, shall we?
Since squash are so very prolific, you can harvest squash blossoms freely, especially if you stick to the males, found on slender stems. Females grow on thicker stems and often have a tiny squash already forming while the flower still looks fresh. Squash blossoms must be picked and used as soon as possible; to keep them for a few hours, remove the stamens from each flower, rinse blossoms well and gently spin dry in a salad spinner lined with paper towels. Add raw squash blossoms to salads, use them to garnish soup, or stuff them with ricotta blended with chopped olives, or goat cheese, salsa, and green onions. Both zucchini or straight neck squash and flowers work well in this zippy raw salad, which I make with Kosmic Kale, an especially tender perennial variety with lovely variegated leaves.
Squash & Blossom Salad
1 4-inch summer squash
3-4 squash blossoms, stamens removed
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes (mixed colors are nice)
1 cup kale chiffonade (cut in thin ribbons)
1 cup basil chiffonade (loose, not packed)
2 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons roasted, salted pumpkin seeds
2-3 tablespoons citrusy vinaigrette
With a sharp vegetable peeler, slice the squash lengthwise into fat ribbons. Sliver squash blossoms lengthwise. Gently toss all ingredients and serve at once. Serves four.
Bare Naked Squash
My favorite way to eat summer squash is this classic Italian treatment. Absolutely simple yet unforgettable when well made, this recipe turns plain old zucchini into heavenly fare. Make this with small, just-picked zucchini or use another recipe; this one is best with perfect ingredients.
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 6-inch long zucchini, quartered lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, cut in wedges
In a wide, shallow pan, heat oil and garlic over medium high heat. Add zucchini, stir to coat with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, shaking pan now and then, until barely tender (4-5 minutes). Serve hot, garnished with a lemon wedge. Serves four.
Ready, Set, Grill
Ridiculously rich and flavorful, this just-try-it-you’ll-like-it garden burger tastes amazing made with any kind of squash.
Grilled Squash Sandwich
2 4-inch summer squash, thickly sliced lengthwise
4 hoagie rolls or 4-inch chunks of baguette
1-2 tablespoons avocado or olive oil
4 slices provolone cheese (or your favorite)
1/4 cup aioli (garlic mayonnaise)
Brush squash and inside of split rolls lightly with olive oil and grill both squash and rolls for 2-3 minutes per side or until grill marks show and squash is fork-tender. Put cheese on one side of hot rolls, spread the other side generously with aioli, top with grilled squash and serve hot. Serves at least one.
A Snappy Thai Salad
Crunchy with crisp Romaine and red onions, bright with sweet peppers and shredded carrot, zippy with a Thai-inflected dressing of sweet chilli sauce, chives and mint, this spunky, speedy salad tastes best at room temperature.
Thai Garden Salad
4 cups Romaine lettuce, thinly sliced crosswise
1 4-inch summer squash, julienned or thinly sliced
1 cup shredded sweet carrot
1 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 cup chopped sweet peppers
1/4 cup stemmed cilantro OR parsley
1/2 cup roasted, salted peanuts
1/3 cup Spunky Thai Dressing (see below)
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, toss gently and serve. Serves four.
Summery And Saucy
Lively with lemon, mint and chives, this sassy, sparkling Thai Dressing is equally delicious with buckwheat noodles (soba) and roasted vegetables or drizzled over grilled fish. For a lovely entree salad for a hot night, toss this with shredded chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, fresh corn, cilantro and sweet onions.
Thai Sweet Chiili Dressing
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2-3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 teaspoons honey
2-3 teaspoons Thai Sweet Chilli sauce
1/4 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
1-2 tablespoon chives, finely snipped
Starting with smaller amounts, combine all ingredients in a jar and shake well to emulsify. Adjust seasonings to taste. Makes about 2/3 cup. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days or go ahead, just drink it.