The fruit of members of the gourd family, squash is considered one of the oldest cultivated crops in the Western Hemisphere, dating back 8,000 years or more.
First planted in South and Central America, squash is a member of the melon and cucumber families and a part of the sacred triad of the “three sisters” — corn, beans and squash — planted by Native Americans.
Known for its prolific harvests, summer squash comes in all shapes and sizes. Unlike its winter brethren, summer squash grows quickly and has thin edible skin and seeds. It also has a much shorter shelf life than winter squash, lasting only about a week in the refrigerator. When shopping for summer squash, choose firm squash with unblemished skin and wash them right before use.
Squash plants produce both male and female blossoms, but only the male blossoms are picked. Baked, fried and stuffed squash blossoms are a delicacy as they are very fragile (lasting only about day) and have a very short growing season; they are harvested only in the early morning hours when they are open. In addition to the blossom and the fruit, squash leaves and stems can be cooked in soups and stews, and they are particularly popular among some cultures in Asia, Africa and South America.
On the nutrition side, summer squash is low in calories — 1 cup contains fewer than 20 calories — with a water content of more than 90 percent. They are excellent sources of vitamin C and potassium. Like all fruits and vegetables, squash contains beneficial phytochemicals which help protect health and are part of a healthful diet.
The most popular of the summer squash, zucchini can be used in many ways — baked, fried, sautéed, grilled, steamed or shredded. This squash also adds moisture and bulk to baked goods. Zucchini can be eaten raw or cooked and has a very mild flavor. Golden zucchini adds a bright pop of color and can be used interchangeably with the green variety.
With its distinct flying saucer shape and scalloped edges, the pattypan squash stands out from the crowd. Hybrid varieties include scallop, which has a nutty flavor, and the golden sunny delight. Slice pattypan squash and pan fry, or scoop out the interior and stuff them.
Ronde de Nice
This French heirloom zucchini is firm and mild-flavored. Also sometimes called eight-ball squash, this squash’s round shape makes it ideal to scoop out and stuff with grains or vegetables before baking or poaching.
A bumpy yellow squash with a curved neck, crookneck squash can be steamed, boiled or sautéed. It is often used in soups and stews, but is also delicious pickled.
Distinctively ribbed with pale green flecks, this Italian zucchini hybrid is a good producer of squash blossoms. The juicy squash can grow up to 15 inches long, but even at that size it remains tender and sweet.
This straight-neck, slender yellow squash has a distinctive green end. The nutty-flavored squash is great eaten raw as part of a crudité tray, but it can also be steamed and its firm flesh stands up well to stir-frying.
Diane Welland, MS, RD, is a public relations professional and food and nutrition writer based in Washington, D.C.
Chocolate Pattypan Cupcakes
Recipe by Ginger Hultin
2 cups peeled pattypan squash, grated (3 to 4 squash)
1½ cup white whole-wheat flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup vegetable oil
3 whole eggs
½ cup white sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
⅓ cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
1 cup chocolate chips
½ cup powdered sugar
- Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare one standard cupcake tin (24 cups) with oil or liners.
- Peel pattypan squash, grate coarsely to equal 2 cups and set aside.
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda.
- In a separate bowl, blend oil, eggs and both sugars until thoroughly incorporated. Stir Greek yogurt into wet mixture.
- Pour dry ingredients into wet mixture and stir just until combined. Gently fold in squash and chocolate chips.
- Divide batter evenly among cups, ¾ full.
- Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 30 minutes.
- Let cool on racks, then sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Serving size: 1 muffin
Calories: 183; Total fat: 10g; Sat. fat: 2.5g; Chol.: 23mg; Sodium: 85mg; Carb.: 23g; Fiber 2g; Sugars: 15g; Protein 3g
Quinoa-Cilantro-Stuffed Yellow Squash
Recipe by Sharon Palmer
¼ cup quinoa, uncooked
1 cups water
1 teaspoon reduced-sodium vegetable broth base
2 medium (about 7-inch) yellow summer squash (i.e. straightneck)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
½ small yellow onion, finely diced
½ small red pepper, finely diced
½ cup finely chopped mushrooms
1 medium clove garlic, minced
⅛ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
3 tablespoons fresh, minced cilantro
¼ cup (29 grams) finely chopped walnuts
- Place quinoa in a small pot with water and broth base. Cover and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When finished, drain any leftover liquid and set aside.
- While quinoa is cooking, slice squash horizontally in half and scoop out interior (reserve for another dish; the flesh is excellent in a stir-fry or soup), leaving about one inch of flesh around the peel. Place in a small baking dish, hollow side up.
- Heat olive oil in a small sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 2 minutes. Add pepper, mushrooms, garlic, black pepper and sauté for an additional 4 minutes. Place vegetable mixture in a medium bowl.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Add cilantro, walnuts and cooked quinoa to the bowl with vegetables, stirring to combine.
- Mound each squash cavity with stuffing mix.
- Add 1/2 cup water to bottom of pan to prevent from burning. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove from foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
Serving size: Half a squash with filling
Calories: 117; Total fat: 7g; Sat. fat: 1g; Chol.: 0mg; Sodium: 12mg; Carb.: 13g; Fiber 2g; Sugars: 2g; Protein 3g; Potassium: 155mg; Phosphorus: 87mg.
Recipe by Lisa Samuel, MBA, RDN, and McKenzie Hall, RDN
This zucchini-and-potato gratin recipe comes from the Mediterranean island of Crete.
1 pound russet potatoes
1 pound zucchini
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
7 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
8 halves oven-dried Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped*
4 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Thinly slice the potatoes and the zucchini, about 1/8-inch thick. Place the potato and zucchini slices in a large bowl and toss with the flour, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Coat the bottom of a 10-by-8-by-3-inch casserole or baking dish with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.
- Cover the bottom of the casserole dish with a layer of the potatoes and then a layer of the zucchini, using about a quarter of each of the vegetables.
- On top of the zucchini, sprinkle one quarter of the chopped tomatoes and one quarter of the mint. The tomatoes and mint will just be dotting the top, not covering it. Dollop the top with one quarter of the ricotta and one quarter of the feta (about ½ cup of ricotta and 2 ounces of feta).
- Repeat this process three more times, ending with ricotta and feta. Pour the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil over the top of the casserole, covering the top in a thin layer of olive oil.
- Place the casserole in the oven and bake for about an hour, or until the potatoes and zucchini are very tender and the boureki is browned on top. If the boureki starts to get too brown, cover the top loosely with aluminum foil.
- Remove from the oven and let the boureki rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.
- To make oven-dried tomatoes, cut a dozen Roma tomatoes in half lengthwise. Squeeze each half to remove the seeds, and discard the seeds/pulp. Place the tomatoes in a bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the tomatoes cut-side down on the baking sheet and roast for about an hour in a 350 degree oven, or until the tomatoes are soft and starting to caramelize. Remove and let cool to room temperature. Store any leftover tomatoes in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator, up to four days.
Serving size: 1 piece (approximately 3-by-2½-inches)
Calories: 462; Total fat: 32.5g; Sat. fat: 14g; Chol.: 72mg; Sodium: 841mg; Carb.: 26g; Fiber 3g; Sugars: 4g; Protein 19g; Potassium: 934mg; Phosphorus: 371mg