Summer squash is flooding the farmers’ markets right now in Houston. Almost every stand overflows with yellow squash, zucchini squash, patty pan squash, and many more I can’t identify by name. I see this as a double-edged sword. On one hand, summer squash is cheap, plentiful, and healthy. On the other hand, summer squash is cheap, plentiful, and healthy. That is, the very qualities that make it so desirable lead one to over-consume it.
At least, that’s how it goes for me every summer. I feel the same way about melon (except watermelon). One year, my mom fed us cantaloupe melon, santa claus melon, canary melon, sweet melon, honey dew melon — you name the melon, we ate it! By the time melon was out of season, I swore I would never eat another one. My resolution may have lasted only two years, but the fear of endless repetition of summer produce remains.
Which leads me back to the question, “what to do with summer squash?” You see, I want to be frugal, I want to eat healthfully, and I want to eat locally and seasonally. Right now, that means one thing: summer squash. So I need a strategy. A good one.
My aversion to the texture of cooked summer squash only adds to the challenge. Does grilled zucchini have a great flavor when grilled? You bet! Can I stand the texture? Just barely.
Life is hard sometimes. ;-)
Fortunately, I have discovered a few ways that I can stomach yellow squash and zucchini, and I’m on the quest for more. I figure that as long as I mix things up on a weekly basis, I can make it through the summer without gagging. Here are the ideas I have so far:
1. Saute the squash
Until last year, I never knew the tricks of a good saute. These tips have improved mine immeasurably.
Rule #1: After washing, dry the vegetables before slicing them. Residual moisture creates steam, and steam is antithetical to a good caramelized film.
Rule #2: Get the pan hot before adding the oil.
Rule #3: Get the oil hot before adding the veggies.
Rule #4: Never, ever overcrowd the pan. You’re much better off cooking two smaller batches than one big batch. Overcrowding produces steam, which, as previously mentioned, prevents that caramelized texture and taste. Each piece of vegetable should have room to breathe in the pan.
Rule #5: Once you dump your veggies in the pan and give them a quick stir to distribute the oil, leave them alone. Let them sit, one side down, to brown a bit. After a couple of minutes, you can stir them again.
Now, because of my aversion to the texture of cooked summer squash, I can only handle this preparation, at most, once per week. So on to the next idea.
2. Grill the squash
I can take grilled squash about twice per month. Marinating it in a little bit of Italian-style vinaigrette really improves the taste, although a quick brush of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt is sufficient. I cut mine in half lengthwise. The texture still bothers me, but I just repeat the mantra in my head that local squash is cheap, plentiful, and healthy.
3. Use pureed squash to thicken soups
Now this idea I can live with frequently! It’s one of my favorite tricks for adding body and creaminess without dairy. While your broth-based soup cooks in one pot, simmer a few thickly-sliced zucchini in a little broth in a small pot. When very soft, puree the zucchini with an immersion blender or in a stand-alone blender. Add to your soup and voila! You have a velvety texture. (If you’re looking for a good vegetable soup recipe, I have a favorite all green and white version on my blog. Go here to take a peek.)
4. Use diced or shredded squash as a filler vegetable in crockpot dishes or soups
When I cut up the zucchini or squash very small, it doesn’t bother me a bit in a dish like Crockpot Chicken and Quinoa or hearty soups like Italian Beef, Vegetable, and Beans. When cooked in these ways, the squash seems almost to disintegrate, to simply blend into its surroundings. I imagine that squash would also work shredded in dishes like chili, spaghetti sauce, and meatloaf, though I have yet to try it. That’s next on my list.
5. Serve raw, grated squash as a salad topping
I like this one too! It’s a great way to sneak extra raw vegetables into my diet. Although I don’t like to munch on chunks of raw summer squash, atop a green salad with lots of cut raw green beans, shredded carrots, sliced celery, and a tart dressing, shredded zucchini or yellow squash fits right in.
6. Make ratatouille
I’ve never prepared this French peasant dish before, but I’m eager to try it. It’s a perfect summertime dish because it also incorporates tomatoes, eggplants, and basil — all of which are plentiful locally right now. I think I’ll try this version. (Yes, I admit it, this idea is inspired by the Disney film. What’s wrong with that?)
7. Serve up Summer Squash and Corn Soup
Oh my! We liked this recipe a lot. It’s mildly sweet and creamy with a tiny kick. You may recall that it was on this week’s menu plan and that I promised to share the recipe if it turned out well. Since we enjoyed it so much, I’ll post the recipe, including my modifications, tomorrow.
Any more ideas? How do you eat summer squash?
[Edited: I've added more ideas to my blog since this post! For taco meat recipe that includes summer squash, go here. For a marinara sauce recipe with summer squash in it that's perfect over spaghetti squash or your favorite pasta, go here.]