For many people, summer means a bountiful harvest of vibrant and versatile summer squash. Whether you grow it yourself or buy it from a supermarket or farmers market, it’s hard to turn around and not trip over a zucchini or yellow squash.
Now that I’ve been gardening for a few years, I have a new appreciation for just how much squash you get when you plant even a couple of seeds or seedlings.
At first, I did the usual: grilled squash, squash soup, stuffed zucchini boats, and zucchini bread. But that didn’t even make a dent in the daily flow of incoming produce.
I also discovered that if you leave zucchini on the vine too long, it grows to roughly the size and weight of a cricket bat. So I had to get more creative in the kitchen to take advantage of all the abundance.
(Fun story: A friend of mine who lives in a small town where nobody locks their car doors told me that for several weeks at the end of summer, everybody was locking their car doors. Otherwise, they would end up with a pile of summer squash on their front passenger seat!)
However, I need to make a confession: Prior to my “arranged marriage” to summer squash due to my gardening choices, I wasn’t really a fan. For years, it seemed like whenever I went to a restaurant that wasn’t predominantly plant-based, the only vegan option on the menu was grilled squash. In my mind, it started feeling like consolation food.
But then I put on my culinary cap, and things got really interesting. I began to see what a fun, delicious, and diverse ingredient summer squash could be. Even grilled, it got a new lease on life as skewers surrounded by tofu, peppers, onions, and pineapple chunks.
The summer squash recipes below reflect years of learning how to use them in ever more varied ways. From refreshing salads to hearty main courses, I’ll showcase the incredible potential of summer squash as a star ingredient.
But first, let’s get acquainted with the various types of summer squash and some of their health benefits, as well as how to choose, store, and prepare them for maximum vim and yum (that is, nutritional and culinary value).
Nutritious Summer Squash Varieties
There are dozens of varieties and cultivars of summer squash. The main types include green zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, pattypan, and eight ball. Although they’re slightly different in shape, coloring, flavor, and texture, these nutrient-packed vegetables offer a range of health benefits.
Summer squashes are good sources of vitamin C, B vitamins, vitamin K, and potassium. They also contain fiber, which is often sorely lacking in the modern industrialized diet.
Yellow crookneck and other summer squash types are rich in antioxidants, those powerful disease fighters found in most whole plant foods. Vitamin C is necessary for strong immunity and wound healing. And the potassium in summer squash helps regulate your blood pressure, among other benefits for your health. The vitamin K in zucchini is good for your teeth and bones. And the fiber in summer squash (especially if you leave the skin on!) supports good digestion.
As you’ll discover when you dehydrate a giant summer squash into a tiny volume of chips, the fruits are mostly water. When you don’t dehydrate before eating, you’ll find them a very hydrating food — perfect for (what else?) summer!
Obviously, that was a brief summary (summer-y?) of the nutritional properties of summer squash. If you’re hankering for details, you can find our in-depth article on the health benefits of zucchini here.
Tips for Selecting and Storing Summer Squash
If you’re picking squash out of your own garden, look for fruits that are firm and free of any blemishes or damage. (Unless you’re dealing with stem borers, which can turn a healthy squash plant into a sad pile of goo overnight, there’s usually plenty to share with the other beings in your garden that also like to eat squash.) The tastiest fruits are typically glossy, small-to-medium-sized, and heavy for their volume.
Smaller squash generally offer the best flavor and texture, as they can get woody as they grow. The long types of squash are best at about six to eight inches, while the round types achieve peak flavor at up to three to four inches across.
If you do happen upon larger summer squash, know that you’ll have to deal with bigger and sometimes inedible seeds, as well as less flavor. But they are still useful when stuffed, or grated for baked goods.
Once you’ve obtained your summer squash, store it unwashed in the refrigerator, either in a produce bag or unbagged in the crisper drawer, where it will keep for up to five days.
If you want to cut your summer squash before storing, slices or chunks will keep for two to three days in an airtight refrigerated container.
If you’re saving the summer harvest for the leaner months of fall, winter, and spring, you can freeze summer squash by cutting it into ½-inch pieces and then blanching in boiling water for a few seconds. (The blanching will improve the color and texture of the squash once defrosted.)
When cool, place the pieces in labeled freezer containers and use them within three months. Or, for a more exciting and chaotic life, forget to label the containers and end up wondering if you’ve got pattypan chunks, winter butternut pieces, or even tropical fruit.
How to Prepare Summer Squash
When you’re ready to get cooking, you’ve got a few options for getting summer squash into the right-sized pieces. Here’s a handy-dandy video that shows you how to cut, julienne, and dice summer squash. As a bonus, the chef looks like Einstein went to the barber.
You can also spiralize summer squash into noodles. Or if you want to be cool, you can call them “zoodles” (a playful portmanteau of zucchini + noodles).
You can eat summer squash raw or cooked. Raw, they’re excellent in salads, as crudités with dips and sauces, as the main ingredient in cold zoodle dishes, and cubed or pureed in gazpachos.
Cooked, they’re awesome in zoodle or pasta dishes and casseroles, sautéed as a side dish, made into zucchini pancakes, stuffed and baked, and added to stews and chilis.
Bonus: the fruit isn’t the only part of the squash plant that you can eat. Squash blossoms — the flowers that end up turning into squash — can also be enjoyed raw or cooked. You can harvest them from your own plant (trim the end near the stem and remove the flower parts from inside) or get them from a farmers market. They’re great in salads, quesadillas, tacos, and soups. You can also stuff and bake squash blossoms.
Summer Squash Recipes
Summer squash comes in many varieties but one thing they share in common (other than nutrition, of course) is the variety of ways you can use this humble family of plants! From soups to sauces to sides and even baked goods, you’ll be amazed at the delightful culinary creations squash can achieve.
Summer Squash, Lima Bean, and Corn Medley is an outstandingly vibrant, fresh, and colorful dish to enjoy the flavors of summer. What makes this dish so special is the balance of flavors and sweetness, thanks, in part, to the summer squash. Mildly sweet and tender summer squash adds a nice silky mouthfeel to the corn, lima beans, and red pepper. Enjoy this refreshing medley inspired by the Indigenous story of the Three Sisters as a main meal or a squash-arific side!
Creamy Squash Soup is a silky, savory treat that will help use up your summer bounty. Whether you use yellow squash or zucchini, both offer a subtle flavor that pairs well with hints of cinnamon, sage, and cumin in this soup. What’s more, summer squash magically blends into a creamy puree, which adds another dimension to this delicate and mouthwatering soup!
Dehydrated Squash Chips can be a fun and crunchy on-the-go snack for summer road trips, plant-based picnics, hiking treks, and much more! If you’re looking for a way to use a significant amount of summer squash you may happen to have on hand, these squash chips can last up to three months with proper storage. Go ahead and give these crunchy and savory summery delights a try!
We have two words for you — practically drinkable! That describes this cheesy, creamy sauce that’s not actually made with cheese or cream at all — but plants! This cheese sauce contains cauliflower and butternut squash (but you can easily substitute your favorite summer squash), giving it a smooth and creamy texture. And the nutritional yeast adds an umami, cheesy flavor. With so much versatility, flavor, and nutrition, we wouldn’t be surprised if you whipped up a batch of this cheesy goodness once a week!
One of the more creative ways to use up your favorite zucchini or yellow squash is to turn them into pasta, just as we did with our Raw Zucchini Cannelloni! One of the coolest things about squash is its adaptability. You can bake it, grill it, steam it, or eat it raw.
In this plant-based version of the popular Italian dish, we’re using squash as the “noodles” and cashews as the “cheese.” Together they make a luscious and nutrient-dense dish that offers a fresh twist of summer squash creativity!
Our ooey gooey Cheesy Squash Casserole may be the most comforting squash recipe to make an appearance in this recipe roundup. Summer squash is the main event in this entrée — and for good reason, as it makes a mouthwatering addition to casseroles when combined with other vegetables, as well as cashew cheese and fresh herbs.
If simple yet tasty casseroles are your idea of a dream meal, this one is sure to rank at the top of your list!
Chocolate Walnut Zucchini Bread is a wholesome plant-based update to zucchini breads of the past. This delicious zucchini bread is packed with nutrients and fiber and can function as a breakfast or dessert without being overly sweet. Plus, zucchini adds just the right amount of moisture to the batter, making the end result nutritionally rich and seemingly decadent!
Get Cooking (and Baking) with Summer Squash!
Packed with vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, summer squash are a valuable part of a healthy diet. And as one of the most prolific garden plants in most temperate zones, they’re one of the easiest and least expensive vegetables to grow.
You can keep your squash fresh and full of nutrients by following the recommendations in this article for selecting, storing, and preparing summer squashes. And feel free to adapt and experiment with the recipes we’ve shared to come up with your own creative ways to use zucchini, crookneck, pattypan, or eight ball squash in your summer meals.
Cheers to a summer filled with nutritious, flavorful, and squashy delights!
Tell us in the comments:
What are your favorite kinds of summer squash?
Have you ever grown summer squash in a garden? What varieties?
What new summer squash recipe will you try this summer?
Featured Image: iStock.com/Olga Mazyarkina