Summer Squash in the Vegetarian Diet

When I was a kid, the mere mention of the word squash sent me screaming for the hills. It had no flavor, and I couldn’t stand the soft, mushy texture.

Of course, this was because the only squash I was familiar with was yellow crookneck, sautéed or steamed into soggy submission as a side dish, with very little in the way of herbs or spices added to it.

Do not let this happen to you. If it has, I’m here to tell you, there is another way.

Summer squash is called such due to the fact that it is harvested most often during the summer, while the skin is still thin and the flesh is soft and mild-tasting. If you have ever grown zucchini and let it go too long before harvesting, you know how bitter those giant zucchini baseball bats can get. Yellow crookneck squash, zucchini, and pattypan squash are the three most common summer squash varieties, with the pattypan being the most flavorful (as well as having the thickest skin).

Lightly Roasted Summer Squash medley with Herbs and Parmesan

Yellow crookneck squash and zucchini make great additions to vegetable- or pasta- or bean-based soups (such as minestrone or pasta e fagioli or Three Sisters soup). They are also featured in my Roasted Vegetable Lasagna and Calabacitas con Huitlacoche recipes. When adding them to soups it is best to cut them into thicker chunks rather than thin round slices, and add them toward the end of cooking in order to avoid them turning to mush. If you are steaming or sautéing them as a side dish, and have sliced them into thin rounds for aesthetic reasons, keep in mind that they cook rather quickly, not unlike thin-sliced stir-fry vegetables. They take on the flavors of the herbs and spices they are cooked with; for this reason they are particularly good raw, marinated in a little olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs of your own choosing. Zucchini, thanks to its mild flavor and high water content, is infamous for its role in moist, rich zucchini bread. Why they call it bread, I do not know. It’s cake to me!

Pattypan squash, the little white, green, or yellow UFO-looking critter, should ideally be peeled before eating. It makes a good addition to soups as well as a side dish or a topping for brown rice or whole grain pasta. It roasts well in the oven, tossed with olive oil, dried herbs, and salt and pepper. I’ve chopped and roasted it in the oven, skin-on, and had no problem chewing up the skin pieces (they remain somewhat tough but edible), but I like my food to fight back a little. Not everyone shares that outlook.

Summer squash varieties are valuable components of the vegetarian diet. All are high in fiber and vitamin C, good sources of vitamin B6, folate, manganese and potassium, and good sources of protein (particularly when combined with other complementary proteins, i.e. legumes and grains). Yellow crookneck squash is also a good source of vitamin A, thiamin and magnesium. Zucchini is high in riboflavin, as well as a good source of niacin, phosphorous, and vitamin K. Pattypan squash is a good source of copper, magnesium, and phosphorous.