Aug 20, 2010

What To Do with Summer and Winter Squash

It's that time of year when many people are either overrun with squash from their own garden or they are getting lots of freebies from their neighbor's gardens. I never used knew what to do with squash - I wasn't even sure I liked it. But squash - a fruit native to the U.S. - is a highly versatile and nutritious food, and now I know a number of ways to make it delicious - or hide it in other foods.

There are over 100 different types of squash, but only two basic types: Summer squash and winter squash. Summer squash (like zucchini, patty pan, straightneck and crookneck) have tender skin and don't store well for long. Winter squash (like acorn, spaghetti, butternut, and carnival) have thick, tough skin and can keep for up to 6 months in a cool, dry, dark location. Both types of squash are generally available year round in grocery stores but are at their peak in late summer through fall.

If you grow squash, or receive it as gifts from friends, you might quickly get overwhelmed. A single plant often produces more than a family of 3 or 4 can eat fresh. Summer squash, in particular, only keeps for about a week or two in the refrigerator. So what to do with the extras?

The good news is, summer squash is easy to freeze. Just cut off the ends of the fruit, grate it (skin and all), place in a freezer container, and put it in the freezer. I like to store grated summer squash 3 cups at a time. This is the amount I need for my zucchini bread recipe, but it's also a good amount for adding to soups, stews, and spaghetti sauce. This latter method really hides the squash - the grated pieces almost disappear - making it a good choice for picky eaters.

You can also freeze summer squash in slices measuring about 1/2 inch thick. Toss the slices in boiling water for 3 minutes, then dump them in a sink or large bowl filled with ice and cold water. Once the fruit is cool, transfer to freezer containers and then pop them into the freezer. These slices are an excellent addition to stews, soups, roasts, and vegetable mixes.

If you prefer to can summer squash, the only safe way to do so is to turn it into relish or pickles. Check out The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving for recipes.

Winter squash takes slightly more work to freeze because it must be cooked first. The easiest way to do this is to place the squash in a glass container, along with a couple inches of water. Cover and microwave until soft. Depending upon the type of squash, this will take about 14 to 30 minutes. Remove the seeds and pulp, slice as desired, place in a freezer container, and pop into the freezer. If you prefer, you can boil, bake, or pressure cook the squash before freezing it. Winter squash can also be canned cubed.

Favorite Ways with Summer Squash:

* Slice into circles, pepper, and saute in a little bacon grease. (Summer squash has an extremely mild flavor, so whatever you sauteed it with, make sure it has great flavor.)

* Made into zucchini bread or muffins. (Recipe coming soon!)

* Chopped into soups, stews, or any recipe calling for a mixture of veggies.

* As a substitute for flat pasta. (For example, use long slices of zucchini in place of lasagna noodles.)

* Shredded and added to cookies and breads.

* Chopped and roasted.

You're most likely to run across recipes for zucchini, but remember any type of summer squash can be used in place of zucchini. Also, don't peel summer squash. The skin is perfectly edible and holds much of the fruit's nutrition.

Favorite Ways with Winter Squash:

* Baked whole. (Prick the skin all over with a fork, cut off the top, remove the seeds and pulp, season, and stuff, if desired. Replace the top before baking. Smaller winter squash cook up well in the microwave: Cut in half and place in a bowl, cut sides down. Add about ¼ cup of water. Cover and microwave on high for about 6 minutes per pound, or until a fork pierces the skin easily.)

* As a substitute for pureed or canned pumpkin.

* Roasted.

* As an edible tureen for stews or soups.

Other Delicious Ideas:

Young squash leaves are edible and make a nice addition to stews or soups. Squash blossoms are also edible, and are often added to rice or salads. All types of squash seeds are delicious when roasted; make them just like roasted pumpkin seeds (instruction here), but check the seeds every 10 minutes or so. Smaller seeds will roast much more quickly than pumpkin seeds.

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