August 21, 2012

Summer squash is versatile, healthy


---- — Zucchini and summer squash are plentiful this year, as usual.

A few weeks ago, I noticed it for sale along the road, and then recently I noticed that much of was for sale is now marked “free.”

Just a few summer squash plants will provide enough squash for a family, so often if people choose to put it in their garden, they end up with more than they are able to eat.

Summer squash is a generic term for zucchini and yellow squash, and it grows easily in our climate. Summer squash is low in calories, only 20 in a one-cup serving. It is also a good source of vitamins C and B6. It cooks quickly, can be eaten raw and has a mild flavor that makes it very versatile.

When you begin to feel inundated with summer squash, there are a few ways to get ahead of your crop without sabotaging your garden. If you have grown summer squash this year, try to pick it small, roughly 6 to 10 inches. The skin and the seeds on a smaller squash are more tender and appetizing.

Another way to get ahead of your crop is to try eating the blossoms. Squash blossoms are considered a delicacy by some, and if you eat some of the blossoms, you will have less fruit. Squash blossoms are commonly prepared by battering and deep frying them, though they can be stuffed and baked, steamed, added as a colorful garnish to pasta or added to a summer soup, with zucchini and corn.

Another common preparation is as a quesadilla filling with a creamy cheese. The blossom is delicate so it needs to be cooked only briefly if you are steaming or baking it and can be added just 1 to 3 minutes before serving a hot soup.

If you have a lot of the squash, do not hesitate to add it to any dish. Summer squash goes great with Italian flavors but would go equally well with stir fries and curries and can be skewered for kabobs. Squash slices can replace lasagna noodles in both traditional lasagna and other casserole dishes.

Since summer squash contains a lot of water, sprinkle some bread crumbs over layers of sliced zucchini to keep the consistency of the casserole similar to that of a pasta-based casserole. It can be used as a side, seasoned to match nearly any meal by cubing or slicing it then sautéing it for a few minutes, or baking or grilling it in foil. Or try using a veggie peeler to create ribbons and then steam them for a few minutes and season to taste.

A larger squash can be scooped out and stuffed, then baked or grilled. Since they are so versatile, it could be stuffed with anything from wild rice, goat cheese and cranberries to ground beef, salsa and cheddar.

Summer squash does not keep long in the refrigerator so if you have eaten it every way imaginable and given enough away that you suspect your neighbors are hiding when you knock, consider storing your summer squash.

You can freeze summer squash easily. Blanching, steaming or boiling the squash then quickly cooling it will destroy the enzymes that helped the fruit to ripen, which will make your frozen product much better. Blanch cubed or sliced summer squash for 3 minutes and grated squash for 1 to 2 minutes. Store the prepared squash in labeled freezer containers, such as freezer bags, for up to 10 months. You could also dehydrate summer squash chips to add to soups throughout the winter. Cut ¼ inch slices and dry at 125 degrees until the chips become brittle. They can be stored for a year in an airtight container.

If you have lots of summer squash, get creative. If you have not tried summer squash or eaten it lately, take a drive to a roadside stand or talk to a gardening neighbor.

Zucchini is delicious and good for you.

Jordy Kivett is a nutrition educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. For more information, contact her at 561-7450.