Before I get into our topic at hand I’d like to take a quick moment and say “Happy Birthday” to a woman that inspired me to do what I am doing today: Julia Child. Today is her 100th birthday. What an amazing woman she was – inspiring generations of home cooks to rethink how they prepared and ate food.
For me her life story has so many parallels to my own: she had a long career as a single woman, met her husband later in life, discovered a passion for cooking after they were married, and with his support was able to create a new career for herself. While my life has had it’s share of sadness, like everyone else, the happy moments far outshine those. My glass is always half full! I’m doing exactly what I love, thanks a lot in part to Larry. Much like Julia had with Paul, Larry my taste-tester, supporter and all around fabulous husband! He is, as I am fond of saying, the “lid to my pot!”
So let’s get to this week’s topic: Summer Squash. They are everywhere right now. Piles and piles of zucchini are at the grocery store and corner markets. Loads of them, yellow, lita and pattypans are at the farmers markets. Just google the word “squash” and you will get pages of recipes, pictures and ideas for this great summer vegetable. Savory and sweet, baked, raw, fried, grilled … you name it!
But before we dive in to my recipe ideas, here are a few tidbits on summer squash: it’s low in fat and carbs, loaded Vitamins A and C, which acts like an antioxidant that promotes tissue repair. It’s also a great source of fiber, potassium and folate. Since they are tasty and tender in the summer, versus their counterparts in the winter, the skin is edible and filled with nutrients too. So keeping it on is optimal!
While I was doing my squash research this week I came across another very interesting bit of information: there seems to be some evidence that squash was cultivated as far back as 10,000 years ago. Astounding! It’s also one of the “Three Sister” crops that were grown by Native Americans. You might be wondering what a Three Sister crop is? They are three main native crop plants that were, and still are, planted together to sustain each other – that being corn, squash and beans. Basically the beans grow up the cornstalk and the the corn leaves provide shade for the squash growing underneath. The squash provides ground cover to limit weeds that might damage the other two crops. Mother Nature at her very best!
The best time to eat summer squash is of course in the summer. They are also best eaten when they are small. Larger sized summer squash tend to have less flavor. In addition to the actual vegetable you can also eat the blossoms. Zucchini blossoms can be prepared in many different ways too, but the stuff and fry method is pretty traditional.
Today I have four ideas for you to try using various summer squash: grilled, baked, raw and fried.
More after the jump …
Grilling is just about the easiest way to prepare any vegetable. You basically need four things: olive oil, salt, pepper and the vegetable. In this dish I used the pattypan squash from my Gaia’s Breath Farm CSA basket. If you remember I spoke about CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) a few weeks back. Making these could not be simpler. Just cut them on the bias about 1/2 inch thick, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and grill until soft, but not mushy. I topped these with a squirt of fresh lemon juice and some basil from my garden. Yum!
My next idea for you is to stuff them. (My recipe is below.) Lita squash works best for this method. They are small, squat little guys that are tender enough to scrape out the inside. Simply take a paring knife and carefully cut down about 1 inch. Then using a spoon gently pull out the center. (I used a grapefruit spoon with a serrated end that worked beautifully.) Season the shells with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake until tender, but not falling apart.
With a large chef knife roughly chop up the center so you have small pieces. Sauté with a little olive oil, salt and pepper until the liquid is pretty much evaporated. Add some couscous, scallion, lemon zest and basil. Remove from heat and set aside.
All of the sautéing and couscous making is happening while the shells are cooking – so multi-tasking is the name of the game here. Once the shells are cool enough to handle stuff them with the filling. I also added a little parmesan on top just for fun! These are great “make-ahead” side dishes. They will take you less than an hour from start to finish and can go from the fridge to table in a snap. They can be rewarmed either in the oven, or the microwave. I used couscous, but quinoa or even rice would be perfect here as well.
My third idea comes by way of my friend and old Sous Chef from Tarry Lodge, Melissa Forte. She suggested the idea of grating the squash raw and mixing with hot pasta. For this recipe I used a yellow squash, spring raab greens (spinach would be great here too), basil, scallions and a relatively new pasta from Barilla.
I blanched the greens for 1 minute then shocked them in an ice bath. After draining I chopped them up and added to a big bowl. While the pasta is cooking you take a yellow squash and grate it raw right into the bowl, along with the juice and zest of one lemon. After the pasta is cooked drain it, reserving half a cup of pasta water, and add it right on top of the squash. The heat from the pasta will soften the squash. Then I added in a chopped scallion, about 1/4 cup of fresh chopped basil and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese. Toss well using the pasta water to bring it all together.
I served this pasta dish with a lovely grilled pork chop, topping it with some fresh cherry tomatoes! (Thanks Melissa!)
For my last recipe I thought it would be fun to show you how to do a fried zucchini flower. Zucchini flowers are completely edible and very tasty. There are lots of ways to eat them: fried, baked, tossed in pasta, placed on top of a pizza, or even in a soup. You just need to do a little prep before using them. Carefully open the flower and remove the pistal, trying to not tear them. I actually picked these from a friend’s garden last night and when I got them home they had a few ants on them. Gently give them a rinse if you see any dirt or bugs … definitely not good eats! Dab with a paper towel to remove any water.
You can fry them as is with a little batter, but I decided to fill them. There are no real recipe measurements here, I just used some fresh ricotta, a little lemon zest, a pinch of salt and pepper and some mint from my garden.
I carefully stuffed them and gave them a little squeeze to hold it all together.
My batter was simply 1 yolk, 1/2 cup of sparkling water and 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour. You can use flat water, but the sparkling gives the batter a little lightness.
To fry them I used Grapeseed Oil. You can also use canola, but I wanted to only taste the yummy flowers and ricotta and grapeseed oil leaves no flavor behind. Let me digress for a quick moment: grapeseed oil has a high smoke point, so excellent for frying. It has no cholesterol, low in saturated fat and calories. It has a clean light taste is also perfect for salad dressings and infused oil. After a dip in the batter carefully drop in the oil. They take no more than a minute to cook.
As soon as you pull them out sprinkle with a little salt and serve immediately!
I hope you enjoy these various ways of cooking and eating summer squash! Please email me with any other ideas you might have, to share with the readers!
Couscous Stuffed Lita Squash
6 lita squash
1 cup cooked couscous or grain of choice
2 scallions, thinly sliced
Zest and juice of one lemon
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly grated black pepper
Parmesan cheese, optional
Preheat oven to 425°.
With a paring knife slice cut down and around the squash, leaving a ¼“ edge. Carefully scoop out the center and place on a cutting board. Season the squash shells with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a foil lined sheet and bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until the shells are tender, but not falling apart.
In the meantime, make your couscous (or grain of choice) according to the package instructions and set aside.
Roughly chop the squash filling and add to a heated sauté pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and a ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Sauté for about 5 minutes or until most of the water has evaporated. Remove from heat and add in the couscous, scallions, lemon zest and juice combining well. Once the filling has cooled a bit add in the basil.
Remove the shells from the oven and cool until they can be handled. Fill with the couscous-squash mix and top with a sprinkle of Parmesan, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.
These can be made ahead and rewarmed either in the oven or microwave.
Maria Reina is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher at Tarry Market in Port Chester, NY. In her free time she loves hanging out at local Farmers Markets in Westchester County doing cooking demos with seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.