Home Cooking > Squash Plain and Fancy

Squash, both summer and winter varieties, comes in many shapes and sizes. Some are plain, some are fancy. Some have brilliantly colored skins, others have artful shapes. But all are delicious, good for you and easy to prepare.

Just about everyone can get zucchini and yellow squash year-round. However, the prime growing season is from May to August, that’s why they are called summer squash. They cook fast and are very versatile, and can be enjoyed even raw in salads. When buying zucchini, look for moist stems, and slightly prickly but shiny skin. Purchase small zucchini, no more than six inches long. These have fewer seeds, and are more delicate in texture and taste. Yellow squash should be firm and smooth without any indentations or brown spots.

Store zucchini and yellow squash in the lettuce crisper, and use within three or four days. Summer squashes are great sautéed quickly with onion, garlic and a bit of red pepper flakes.

Winter squash are round, elongated, scalloped, pear and turban shaped with flesh that ranges from golden yellow to brilliant orange. Most winter squash are vine-type plants whose fruits are harvested when they are mature. The winter squashes take longer to reach maturity than summer squash (three months or more) and are best harvested once fall arrives. They can be stored for months in a cool place—that’s where they get their name “winter” squash.

Avoid cooking with jack-o-lantern pumpkins. Carve them and decorate with them, but eating them will leave you disappointed (they are tough and bland). If you want to cook with pumpkin, choose sugar pumpkins for pies, muffins and quick breads.

Butternut squash is readily available in supermarkets. This is a more watery squash and tastes somewhat similar to sweet potatoes. It has a bulbous end and pale, creamy skin, with a choice, fine-textured, deep-orange flesh and a sweet, nutty flavor. The deeper the orange color, the riper, drier and sweeter the squash. Butternut is perfect for oven baking. Try filling the cavity with a meat-loaf mixture for a complete meal, or cut the squash into chunks and add to stews instead of potatoes. It makes a great-tasting creamed soup when puréed, too!

A relative newcomer to the squash family is delicata, an heirloom variety also called sweet potato squash, peanut squash or Bohemian squash. It was originally introduced by the Peter Henderson Company of New York City in 1894 and was popular through the 1920s. Then, delicata fell into obscurity for about seventy-five years, possibly because of its thinner, more tender skin, which isn’t suited to transportation over thousands of miles and long storage.

In general when purchasing squash, remember to allow about 1/3 pound per person. One pound of winter squash yields about 2 cups of cooked and mashed squash. And don’t just cook with squash. Gather them up, plain and fancy, and use them as decorations to welcome fall.

Mary Ann Esposito’s Recipes For Squash

Zucchini e Pomodori al Forno (Baked Zucchini and Tomato Casserole)
Serves 8

This easy-to-put together zucchini and tomato casserole can do duty as an antipasto, light lunch or side to a meat, fish or poultry course. It is the perfect late-summer dish when tomatoes and zucchini are at their peak of freshness.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 slices of bread, crusts trimmed and each slice cut into 4 triangles
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
1¼ teaspoons dried oregano
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste grinding coarse black pepper, to taste 4-5 large plum tomatoes, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
2 medium zucchini, sliced into thin circles
½ pound semisoft Fontina cheese, grated and divided

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Melt the butter over medium heat in a nonstick sauté pan
and brown the bread triangles on both sides. Cool and set aside.
2. heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in the same pan, stir in the bread crumbs and brown
them in the oil. transfer the crumbs to a small bowl. Stir in the oregano, salt and a
grinding of pepper. Set the mixture aside.
3. lightly coat a 9-by-12-by-2-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Make a
layer of tomatoes in the base of the dish; sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Make
a layer of zucchini over the tomatoes. Sprinkle the zucchini with half of the cheese.
Make two more layers each of tomatoes, salt, pepper, zucchini. Make a final layer of
zucchini, the remaining cheese and tomato slices. Place the bread triangles in a layer
over the tomatoes. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.
4. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 20 minutes. remove the foil and bake an
additional 30 minutes. Five minutes before the dish is done, sprinkle the bread crumband-
oregano mixture evenly over the top. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Ciambotta (Mixed Stewed Vegetables)
Serves 12-16

Ciambotta, similar to French ratatouille, is a hearty vegetable stew of eggplant, zucchini, squash, tomatoes and, unlike ratatouille, potatoes. The slow cooking blends the flavors of the vegetables and prevents them from losing their shape.

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
½ cup packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
5 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and puréed
1¾ pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 medium delicata squash, peeled and cut into chunks
1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into chunks
1 pound zucchini, cut into chunks
1 large yellow pepper, cored, seeded and cut into chunks
½ cup water
Fine sea salt, to taste
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste

1. In a large deep skillet or a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
2. Add the onion and sauté until soft. Add the celery and basil, and sauté until the celery is soft. Add the tomatoes, potatoes, squash, eggplant, zucchini, yellow pepper, water, salt and pepper, and stir well.
3. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes. Serve hot.