Summer squash advice

  • Article by: NICOLE HVIDSTEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 20, 2003 - 11:00 PM

Here are some tips on buying, using and storing summer squash.

BUYING

When looking for summer squash, you'll want to select ones that are vibrant in color and without gashes or dents. Zucchini and other summer squashes -- on most occasions they can be used interchangeably -- have a shelf life of about three to five days in the refrigerator when kept in a perforated plastic bag, but they can last up to a year when frozen.

There are several kinds of summer squash, but the most popular are:

Zucchini: This is the most widely available of the summer squashes. Its color ranges from dark to light green and it has a very mild flavor. Golden zucchini are becoming more popular.

Crookneck: These squashes have long, curved necks that are more slender than the base. The skins are deep yellow and the flesh is a creamy yellow with a mild and delicate flavor.

Pattypan: The fun variety of summer squash, a pattypan looks like a flying saucer that is round and flattish with a scalloped edge. The skin ranges in color from cream to pale green and can be smooth to slightly bumpy. It usually isn't removed before cooking.

There are other summer squashes that aren't as common, but are equally appealing: globe zucchini make excellent vessels for stuffed dishes, Middle Eastern zucchini are rounder than most zucchini and are pale green in color, and a zephyr squash looks like a smooth yellow squash dipped in green paint.

FREEZING

Depending on how you use your zucchini, you can freeze it grated or sliced. To freeze shredded zucchini, measure it in the increments used in your favorite recipes. Package it in a freezer bag, label and freeze until you're ready to use it.

Be aware that zucchini loses some of its texture during freezing, so if you're going to freeze it sliced, it's best to save it for soups, stews and casseroles.

To freeze sliced zucchini, wash and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes, and immediately cool in a cold-water bath for 3 minutes. Drain and pat the squash dry, then package in a freezer bag or container, leaving a 1/2-inch space at the top.

When the zucchini is thawed it more than likely will have moisture -- a lot of moisture. Be sure to drain and squeeze out excess moisture. Frozen vegetables have a shelf life of eight to 12 months.

DRYING

Zucchini of any size can be dried, but if the zucchini is larger than 12 inches, the large seeds and fibrous tissue should be removed before slicing, grating or dicing. Wash the zucchini thoroughly, peeling if desired. You can dry it sliced, cubed, grated or cut into julienne strips. For a different twist, make vegetable chips by soaking zucchini slices in barbecue sauce or soy sauce before drying. Drying time is 6 to 10 hours.

COOKING

Summer squash can be cooked a number of ways. Cook it until it is crisp-tender. If you overcook zucchini, you'll never win over those naysayers.

Baking: You won't bake zucchini by itself, but when combined with onions, garlic, leeks or tomatoes -- and sprinkled with butter or olive oil -- slices or chunks of zucchini are transformed into a tasty side dish. You can also stuff halved zucchini before you bake it; just blanch it until it's barely tender, scoop out pulp (and combine it with the filling if you want), put the filling in the shell and bake until heated through.

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