Zucchini and other squash add variety to summer menus

July 7, 2023

If you’ve been to a farmers market, supermarket or roadside stand lately, you’ve likely seen a wide range of fresh squash available. This is prime time for the varieties known as summer squash, so called for the time of year they are harvested, as compared to winter squash. The term squash refers to the fruit produced by the gourd family of vining plants.

Native to North and Central America, there is evidence squash have been cultivated for over 5,000 years. Their name comes from the Native American word “askutasquash,” which translates to “eaten raw or uncooked,” although most winter squash are better when they’re cooked. In addition to corn and climbing beans, squash is considered one of the “three sisters,” a set of crops traditionally grown together.

Many tribes of indigenous people interplanted their crops, starting with corn planted in a series of small hills. A few weeks after the corn, beans were planted in the same hills, so the beans contributed nitrogen to the soil and the cornstalks served as beanpoles. Squash were interspersed among the hills so their leaves could shade the ground, preserving moisture and inhibiting weed growth.

Summer squash, with varieties such as zucchini, pattypan and crookneck, have a mild flavor, tender flesh, thin skin, soft seeds, high water content, and are rich in vitamins A and C. When buying squash, select those that are between 6 and 8 inches long with unblemished, shiny skin. You can keep them refrigerated for up to five days before preparing them.

Fresh, local squash can be eaten raw or cooked. Any cooking method you choose should be something swift to avoid turning your squash into mush, unless you’re making soup as in the recipe below. A quick stir-fry works well, as do a few minutes on the grill like the dish in the photo, which combines grilled zucchini with tomato and red onion in a Balsamic vinaigrette.

If you find the squash in your garden have become overgrown (usually when the overabundant supply makes it impossible to harvest and consume them quickly enough), keep in mind they won’t be as tender and delicious as the smaller ones. You may want to consider peeling the toughened skin and grating the squash to serve as a source of moisture and texture in baked goods like cookies or cakes.

While squash refers to a food typically served as a vegetable in America, in Britain the term squash refers to a non-alcoholic, concentrated fruit syrup also called dilute or cordial depending upon the percentage of fruit in the mixture. Squash is made from fruit juice, water, sweetener and sometimes herbal extracts. Squash is diluted to make a drink.

Familiar brands on British store shelves include Robinson’s, Ribena and Rose’s. Widely available from online sources, the last of these produces a sweetened lime juice that can also be found in our local supermarkets. Rose’s is a common ingredient in many alcoholic cocktails, from margaritas to mojitos.

I’ve included recipes for the grilled zucchini salad in the photo, which you can turn into a luncheon main course with the addition of crumbled feta cheese. The zucchini cookies are a riff on cookies made with grated carrots and sweetened with the addition of chocolate bits.

Grilled Zucchini Salad

2 zucchini
1 T olive oil
2 T Balsamic vinegar
1 T olive oil
1/2 t oregano
1 diced tomato
1/4 C minced red onion
salt & pepper, to taste

Trim ends from the zucchini and cut into slices 1/3-inch thick. Preheat grill or stovetop grill pan to medium high. Brush the zucchini with olive oil and place on the grill in a single layer. Cook for about 3 minutes and turn over slices to cook the other side. In the meantime, whisk together Balsamic vinegar, olive oil and oregano in a serving bowl. Stir in tomato and red onion. When zucchini is finished cooking, add it to the bowl and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Yield: 4 servings.

Zucchini Soup

1 T olive oil
1 diced onion
1 minced shallot
2 pressed garlic cloves
1/2 t thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
2 C shredded zucchini
2 C vegetable broth
1 T chopped basil
salt & pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and sauté the onion and shallot until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, thyme, bay leaf and zucchini. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Pour in the broth and bring to a full boil for a few minutes. Remove from heat; discard the bay leaf and stir in the basil. Purée the soup with an immersion blender. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve warm or chilled. Yield: 4 servings.

Zucchini Chocolate Cookies

1 C flour
2/3 C rolled oats
1/3 C cocoa powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 C shredded zucchini
1/2 C plain Greek yogurt
1 egg
1/3 C packed light brown sugar
1/3 C granulated sugar
1 t vanilla
1/2 C chopped dark chocolate 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Stir together flour, oats, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Squeeze the shredded zucchini in a paper towel and pat dry to remove excess moisture. Combine the zucchini, yogurt, egg, sugars and vanilla in a large bowl and mix well. Add the flour mixture to the zucchini; stir until just combined. Fold in the chocolate. Drop batter in heaping tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the edges are set and the middle is still slightly soft, 12 to 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to racks to cool completely. Yield: 2 dozen cookies.


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