With our wonderful summer days upon us, it’s time to embrace some of the more delightful summer produce. Squash are gourds – fleshy vegetables protected by a rind. Even though most people identify squash with vegetables, from a botanical standpoint, they’re actually fruits because they contain the seeds of the plant. They are divided into two main groups: summer squash and winter squash. Summer squash have soft shells and tender, light-colored flesh and are picked while immature. Winter squash have hard shells, and darker, tougher flesh and seeds and are not harvested until they are mature.
The most popular summer squash is the familiar green zucchini. It is only one of several common types of summer squash, which vary in shape and color. All are similar enough in flavor and texture to be interchangeable in recipes. It’s hard to keep up with all of the names and varieties, but summer squash generally fall under four broad groups: Cousa, Pattypan/Scallop, Yellow, or Zucchini.
Summer squash is an enjoyable vegetable that contains a list of health benefits and is rich in nutrition. Generally, there is little variation in nutritional value between varieties. The peel is where many of the nutrients hide, so never peel summer squash. Summer squash are considered a healthy choice for the calories; one cup of raw squash has less than 20 calories. Squash has an excellent source of vitamin C, which helps wounds heal, resist infection, and keeps teeth and gums healthy. Vitamin A aids in normal vision, healthy skin, and protects against infections. It is good source of vitamin B6, which helps us metabolize protein. Squash is a source of folate that produces red blood cells and reduces a woman’s risk of having a baby with certain brain or spinal cord birth defects. Summer squash has a very good source of potassium, which helps to control blood pressure. In addition, it is high in manganese, a mineral that helps the body process fats, carbohydrates, and glucose. Aside from the lack of fat in summer squash, the magnesium quantity has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. High in fiber, squash helps regulate the digestive system and lower cholesterol.
Picking Your Squash
Choose squash that are firm and heavy for their size. The stem end should be fresh and green. Look for squash with unblemished, glossy skin, and avoid those showing nicks, pits, bruises or soft spots. Summer squash taste best when small to medium size, not more than eight inches long. Overly large squash may be fibrous, while tiny ones may have inferior flavor. A hard rind indicates an overly mature squash that will have hard seeds and stringy flesh.
Store unwashed summer squash in a protected place inside the refrigerator, wrapped in a damp towel or plastic bag for up to one week. Avoid storing squash near apples, avocados, or peaches that are all natural ripening agents that release ethylene gas. The gas will discolor and decay zucchini and other dark green squash.
Summer squash also freezes very well. It will not retain its texture, but frozen squash works great in wintertime stews and soups and breads.
Squash have no parts that go to waste. The entire vegetable – rind, seeds, and in some cases, the blossom – can be eaten. To begin cooking, wash well under running water and trim the ends. Summer squash need not be peeled or seeded unless it is oversized and has a thick skin or large seeds.
Summer squash can be cooked in a variety of ways. Squash is versatile and may be baked, boiled, steamed, broiled, or pan-fried. It can be used in a wide variety of dishes. Here are some ways to add it to your daily diet:
- Squash can be used to make great tasting casseroles or put in stir-fry.
- Put cubes of any summer squash into soups or stews at the last minute.
- Turn it into noodles by way of a spiralizer or vegetable peeler. You can enjoy them as you would a typical pasta dish topped with your favorite pesto or marinara sauce, add to a salad, and/or incorporate into a wrap.
- Roast it up with some other fresh vegetables.
- Add sliced squash with tomatoes to rice when you cook it.
- Cut summer squash into 1/2 inch thick lengthwise portions. Brush with vegetable oil, season, and grill.
- Make a summer squash slaw: shred the squash, unpeeled. Toss with a little lemon juice or vinegar and set aside. Make a dressing of low-fat yogurt, black pepper, and minced dill. Drain the squash and toss with dressing. Serve at room temperature.
- Sliced or grated raw squash can be a wonderful addition to your favorite salad.
- Add yellow and zucchini squash to your next vegetable tray.
- Grated summer squash makes a good substitute for carrots in a carrot cake.
- Sprinkle grated summer squash on top of salads or sandwiches, or try raw, sliced squash with your favorite dip.
Be adventurous and squash savvy. Learn the names and how to prepare these low calorie yet filling foods. Remember the possibilities are endless!
- Full Circle, fullcircle.com
- University of Illinois Extension, extension.illinois.edu