The Joy of Summer Squash: A Few Ideas for Cooking and Keeping

A pan full of chopped zucchini, yellow squash and patty pan squash.

Despite the fact that early on in the season some of us weary of summer squash—zucchini, yellow squashes, patty pans—some of us keep looking for a new and different way to prepare them, and even figure out ways to keep them for winter use. Leslie Lavender in Stockton Springs wrote this week asking, “Any suggestions for a mountain of pattypan squash? My husband has a co-worker who has gifted me with a ton of the stuff. I’ve sautéed, grilled and stuffed it. Is there a good way to preserve (freeze, whatever) for later use? Also, are there other ways to use it?”

Leslie’s question was timely. So she had a lot of patty pan this week, that little yellow or green round squash with scalloped edges that looks like a spaceship, and I had a lot of a yellow squash called Zephyr that has a sunny yellow color and a little end that looks like it was dipped in light green stain, and, also, of course, zucchini. In fact, Leslie had zucchini, too, that she described as “infant sized.”

One thing you can do with squash, especially this time of year, is pull it up and compost it. My squash plants were showing dusty mildew, and a little tendency toward bottom end rot, so I cleaned off all the viable vegetables and pitched the rest on the pile. I have two younger zucchini which may produce some more fruit, so I will have some for grilling, roasting and sautéing for a little while longer. When they get to what Leslie called “infant sized,” I am inclined to whack them down the length of them and toss them to the chickens. If you don’t have chickens, or any other critters that appreciate them, maybe you can find a neighbor who does.

Sometimes that size is good for grinding up and making into relish: use just about any recipe for cucumber relish and substitute the zukes for cukes. It might be good to strip out the seedy middle before grinding.

Ways to cook them: I like all the ways that Leslie thought of for cooking summer squashes. I stuff them, too, especially the patty pans because you can hollow them out and steam the pretty little bowl they make before filling them with the sautéed squash enhanced with everything from sausage to grains, seasoned with onion, garlic, herbs, etc. I cut thick slabs of squash and brush them with olive oil and grill them to make squash steaks. Also, lightly sautéed squash tossed with pesto is delicious.

It is smart to pick them when they are little, no longer than your hand, and steam or grill them whole, very elegant.

Ways to preserve them: For keeping for winter use, I prefer various ways of freezing either before or after cooking.

One of my favorite things to do is to chunk it up and roast it with olive oil, maybe garlic, salt and pepper, then put the results in a zip closed bag and freeze them. Leslie does this, too, even adding apples. When I want a vege in winter, I unzip the bag, slide it out, and warm it in a sauté pan, sometimes adding green beans or corn to it.

Roasted squash, ready for the freezer.

Sometimes I add couscous to the warming roasted squash, and usually it is moist enough that it soaks up excess liquid enough to cook the couscous, though I can always dribble in a little water or broth if it’s needed.

I also whirl that roasted mixture in the food processor and store it as soup starter.

Some of my friends who like zucchini bread, use summer zukes in it and freeze the bread. I prefer to freeze just the zucchini, and since I have a favorite chocolate cake recipe that uses it, I freeze it in the required three cup quantities. That cake appeared in this column a few years ago, and can be found in Maine Home Cooking.

I grate both zukes and yellow squashes of all sorts and freeze a cupful in waxed paper, stored in bags to drop into spaghetti sauce, soup, chili, all sort of things, where it cooks up and disappears, adding vegetable but virtually no discernable squashness.

Grated squash ready to be wrapped and frozen.

Freezer-bound, wrapped and ready cupfuls of yellow and green squash, left, and pre-measured zucchini, bagged, right.

I hope some of these dodges will give you a helping hand with the what-to-do-with-squash dilemma. Sometimes the hardest part of cooking is deciding what to cook.

P.S. In the Red Pepper Relish recipe last week, I failed to say when to add the sugar and vinegar to the ground peppers. They are all cooked together at the same time: put the peppers in the pot, add the vinegar and sugar and cook it.

One of you Dear Readers wrote to ask if the relish needed to be processed in a canner. To be absolutely truthful, when I make a preserve heavy with vinegar or sugar, like the pepper relish, I don’t always process it. I sterilize the jars and fill them with screeching hot food, and put the lid and ring on, and call it good. The jars usually take a seal, and if they don’t, I put them in the fridge and use them quickly. The worst that seems to happen is that a light mold appears on the top. If it ferments, I find out right away when the lids bulges and out to the compost pile it goes.

If you want to be dead certain of successful long time preserving, of course you will process them in a canner, after putting the food in a sterilized jar, fixing the ring just finger tight, and making sure an inch of water covers the jars. Ten to fifteen minutes boiling will do the trick for the red pepper relish.

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.