Summer squash refers to a squash harvested before it is fully mature, while the rind is still thin and soft. The name refers not to when they are harvested, but to their shorter storage life compared to winter squash.
Historians believe that squash is North America’s oldest cultivated food, predating even corn and beans, the other crops included in the traditional “Three Sisters” companion growing method. A mainstay of the indigenous North American diet, the squash, along with its blossoms and seeds, were eaten at all levels of ripeness, and even dried in strips for long journeys. Explorers’ logs from the 17th to the 19th centuries make mention of squash being eaten by indigenous people from the northeast to the western edge of the Great Plains. Summer squashes were brought to Europe as early as 1590, and were readily adopted by colonial American farmers as well.
Summer squash is a good source of vitamins A, B6, C and K, phosphorus, folate, magnesium, and potassium.
Gently wipe any dirt from summer squash, then store in an unsealed or perforated plastic bag in refrigerator crisper for up to 4 days.
Summer squash has a firm yet tender texture and a mild, cucumber-like flavor that adapt well to all kinds of preparation. Raw summer squash can be sliced thinly and marinated as a vegetarian carpaccio, or spiralized into noodles and eaten like cold pasta. Summer squash pairs beautifully with other summer vegetables such as tomatoes and eggplant in sautés, terrines, and stews, as well as baking with a savory filling or grilling. A favorite preparation is shredding squash and combining with onions, eggs and flour as fritters, or coating in batter and frying into tempura.
Cut summer squash into small chunks and toss with kosher salt; place in colander and allow to drain for at least 30 minutes. Pat dry, then add in a single layer to a hot, oiled frying pan. Brown for at least 5 minutes, then reduce heat, cover pan, and let cook until tender. Remove and toss with additional olive oil, garlic, vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, and chopped herbs. Let marinate for at least another 15 minutes. Serve over crusty bread spread with ricotta cheese, topped with toasted pine nuts.
A common complaint is that summer squash ends up too watery when cooked. There are two solutions. First, salt the squash and let drain for at least 30 minutes before using. Second, cut squash into larger pieces before cooking.