September is upon us but there is still a supply of the ubiquitous yet beloved summer squash. We all look forward to it but once we have been inundated with it for a couple months we can’t wait for the season to be done. Summer squash, including the well-known zucchini, is a very versatile vegetable since it can be added to almost anything. This is a great feature since farmers and gardeners have such an abundance once it starts producing. Its mild taste complements many things: cake, cookies, bread, soups, stir fries, salads, and vegetable casseroles. It has never ending possibilities. Let’s not forget to mention that stuffed zucchini is a delicious treat since gardeners often find large trophies hidden amongst the squash leaves.
What better way to use these large gourd vegetables than to stuff them with an array of tasty ingredients!
Summer squash are in the same cucurbita gourd family as winter squash and pumpkin but, unlike those, they cannot be stored for extended periods. They are delicate and perish quickly. Summer squash originated in South America and many other varieties have descended from the native species thousands of years ago. Zucchini is a variety of squash that is especially well known, which may be the influence of Italian immigrants from its popularity in Italian cuisine.
Summer squash contain a large percentage of water and are low in calories. They are not high in nutritional ratings like dark green and deep orange produce, but they do have some benefits that should not be overlooked. They provide some copper, potassium, manganese, and a plentiful amount of fiber. They are a good source of vitamin A in the form of the infamous carotenoids. These come from alpha-and beta-carotenes, including the beneficial anti-oxidants lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin. Summer squash should not be peeled since much higher amounts of these powerful plant compounds are found in the skin as opposed to the innards.
Choose small to medium-size summer squash for food preparation, though as I said the large ones are great for stuffing. Look for squash with intact skin and little to no bruising or nicks—unless you plan to use it immediately. Grilled squash is delicious and it’s a simple way to prepare them. Another easy method—and often my favorite—is to sauté thinly sliced squash with olive oil and fresh minced garlic for just a few minutes until tender. Season with salt and pepper, as desired, and serve hot with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. This was my mother’s go-to preparation and I love it to this day! I often add chopped bok choy to the zucchini for variation. Cooked, puréed squash can be frozen for use during the winter months for soups and grated squash can be frozen for baked goods too.
By Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist