Cooking can be confusing, and I’m not just talking about the different processes, techniques and tricks that expert, seasoned cooks know about. Ingredients can also be confusing and even misleading.
For example, summer squash is not one specific vegetable. It refers to many different cultivars of a few different species of edible plants, and they’re not even vegetables. They are considered fruits. Summer squash varieties share many similarities though they vary a bit in texture, flavor and ideal use.
The fact that summer squash are typically available well into the fall and through the winter, and that winter squash are available in the late summer and through fall, can also lead to confusion.
The most common summer squash is the zucchini. Other popular summer squash include pear squash, crookneck squash, patty pan squash, yellow zucchini and round “eight ball” zucchini. Nearly all of these can be used interchangeably in recipes.
Summer squash develop really fast after the vines are pollinated, especially in hot weather. Most are ready four to eight days after flowering, so if you have them in your garden, be sure to check them at least every other day. They should be harvested when small and tender. Fruit that is too mature will become large, hard and seedy. Some larger fruits can be salvaged by grating them for baking in breads or other baked goods.
To prepare summer squash for cooking, scrub them under running water to remove any dirt. Cut off the stem end and scrape off the other end and discard. You do not have to peel the skin off unless it is unusually tough or it is your personal preference.
One of the easiest ways to prepare summer squash for recipes is to boil it. Simply slice the squash into ¼- to ½-inch-thick slices and add to a pan of lightly salted boiling water. Cover and cook for 4 to 6 minutes or until the squash is just tender. Drain well, and it’s ready to add to recipes.
To steam, arrange slices or chunks of squash in a strainer or rack over ½ inch of boiling water. Cover and steam until just barely tender. Remove from heat and drain well. Toss with melted butter or a favorite sauce.
To sauté summer squash, cook slices in butter over medium-high heat until barely tender, then season with salt, pepper and herbs.
Grilling is one of the most popular ways to prepare yellow squash. Place squash slices or pieces on kabob skewers, brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place skewers onto the grill rack over medium-high heat. Grill for about 10 minutes, turning once. Serve as a tasty side to hamburgers or chicken also done on the grill.
No matter which summer squash variety you choose, I hope you enjoy the rich, flavorful taste they are known for.
Janelle Thomas can be reached at email@example.com.