Prime time for summer squash

June 7, 2019
As you can see from the photo, it's prime time for summer squash. The term “summer squash” refers to several vine-grown varieties harvested from June through August, before their rinds have a chance to harden. With a range that covers zucchini through pattypan, in colors from green to gold to variegated shades, these tender vegetables should be eaten within a week and stored in the crisper drawer as soon as you bring them home.
Although we call all of them summer squash, there are a few differences. Zucchini, whether deep green or rich gold, have a straight, tubular shape, while yellow squash have a fatter bottom and taper toward the neck. Flavor-wise, both have a mild, nutty taste with a hint of sweetness. Select the smaller to medium-sized squash, as they will have the best texture – thin, crisp skin and tender flesh.
The bigger, more mature summer squash will have larger seeds and more of them, with slightly watery flesh. Yellow crookneck summer squash have thicker, waxier skin because they’re usually left a bit longer on the vine to produce the signature curved neck. Both zucchini and younger yellow squash can be used interchangeably in recipes, whether grilled, sautéed, stuffed, or “spiralized” into veggie “noodles.”
If you’re planning to grill squash, cut it lengthwise into relatively thick slices, so it won’t fall through the grate when it softens as it cooks. Alternatively, you can cut rounds and toss them into a grilling basket or chop them into wedges to thread on a skewer. Coat them with a splash of olive oil and a generous sprinkling of savory herbs for a simple side dish. 
Most recipes for stuffed zucchini feature strong Italian flavors, lots of meat, usually crumbled sausage or beef, thick tomato sauce and a layer of cheese. All of these heavy ingredients completely overpower any flavor of the squash. A more delicate option is a Lebanese combination of ground lamb and rice, seasoned with allspice and stuffed into hollowed-out squash that is simmered in tomato sauce. 
If you haven’t yet made “spiralized” zucchini noodles or purchased one of the trendy tools, I can offer a few tips. First, consider how often you might want to use the device and how much storage space you’ll need. They range in price from $10 to $100. Some require you to force the vegetable through the blades, some have cranks, one attaches to a Kitchen Aid mixer and another is electric. Most can easily handle tender summer squash, but you’ll need a sharper blade and sturdier form if you’re planing to try carrots or sweet potatoes. If your menu extends beyond zucchini, consider one of the machines with multiple blades and either a crank or electricity to get the veggies properly cut.
When you’re ready to cook those trendy zucchini noodles, there are some things to keep in mind. Don’t peel the zucchini – the skin is good for you, and without it, the noodles become very slimy. Don’t pre-salt the zucchini and don’t add salt while it’s cooking, or it will release its moisture and become a soggy mess. Cook them just about 5 minutes or less, to keep them tender but not mushy.
I’ve included recipes for stuffed squash, zucchini noodles in a simple garlic sauce, and eggy breakfast muffins with shredded zucchini and quinoa - all delicious ways to feature summer squash on the menu.
Stuffed Squash
1/2 C jasmine rice
1/2 lb ground lamb
1/3 C grated onion
1/4 C chopped parsley
1/4 C chopped dill
1 14.5 oz can diced tomato with juice
2 T olive oil
1 t allspice
1 t garlic powder
salt & pepper
4 medium zucchini
1 14.5 oz can tomato sauce
In a mixing bowl, combine rice, lamb, onion, parsley, dill, tomatoes, olive oil, allspice and garlic. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Mix with a spatula to combine. Cut the zucchini in half, leaving one side open and the other closed. Using a paring knife or corer, remove the flesh and seeds from inside of the tube of zucchini, leaving a 1/4-inch-thick shell. Spray the bottom of a Dutch oven with nonstick cooking spray. Gently stuff the hollowed zucchini up to a half-inch from the top rim. Arrange the stuffed zucchini in the pan open side up, and add tomato sauce. Bring to a boil over medium high, then cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Yield: 4 servings.
Zucchini Noodles 
2 zucchini
1/2 C olive oil 
4 minced garlic cloves
1/2 C vegetable stock 
2/3 C chopped parsley
1/4 t salt
1/4 t red pepper flakes
1/3 C grated Parmesan cheese
Trim the stem from the zucchini and shred into spaghetti “noodles” with a spiralizer device; set aside on a piece of wax paper. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add stock, parsley, salt and red pepper. Sauté for a minute, then add zucchini. Simmer until the zucchini are barely softened, about 4 to 5 minutes. Serve garnished with Parmesan cheese. Yield: 4 servings.
Zucchini Egg Muffins
1/2 C quinoa
1 C water
8 eggs
2 C grated zucchini
1 1/2 C shredded cheddar cheese
1 finely diced red bell pepper
3/4 C diced ham
1/4 C chopped green onion
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
grated Parmesan cheese
Combine quinoa and water in a saucepan; bring to a boil, then lower the heat to low. Cover and cook until all the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat the inside of 12 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Whisk eggs in a mixing bowl until smooth. Add cheese, pepper, ham, green onion, salt, pepper and cooked quinoa; stir to combine. Pour 1/3 C mixture into each prepared muffin cup and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake until set, about 20 minutes. Yield: 12 muffins.

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