Gold Rush, White Egyptian, Pattypan, Costata Romanesca, Yellow Crookneck. What do all these fancy names have in common? They are all varieties of the humble summer squash. This summer delicacy is often overlooked for more exciting vegetable varieties, but these brightly hued, fun shaped gourds are just what light summer suppers need. Indeed, cooking need not be necessary with their soft and supple skin, unlike their winter counterparts. As for nutrition, 1 cup of sliced (insert your favorite summer squash variety here) yields 18 calories, 4 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 0 grams of fat and 1 gram of protein. They are very good sources of fiber, vitamin C, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium and potassium. In other words, they’re a nice little package of vitamins and minerals.
Summer squash have not been extensively studied and the majority of studies are on animals instead of humans. However, the limited research on them confidently points to several health benefits. They possess strong antioxidant capabilities, mainly found as carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene. Not only are antioxidants associated with decreased inflammation, but these kinds in particular are known to help combat age-related macular degeneration cataracts (i.e. they protect our eyesight). The antioxidants are found in the whole food, including the canary yellow and bright green skins, so peeling them is not recommended.
Additionally, the complex carbohydrates found in squash make them beneficial for blood sugar stability. So although squashes are known to be “starchy”, the kind of starch in the summer variety (a pectin polysaccharide) is particularly well suited to benefit blood sugars with a slow sugar release that prevents spikes.
Season, Selection and Storage
As the name implies, summer squash thrive in June through late August, but are available year round as well. A soft, supple skin assures optimal freshness so check that the rind is not too hard. Also, a medium size squash, relative to its variety, is most desirable since one that is too large may be fibrous inside and too small may have limited flavor. As with most fruits and vegetables, look for bright, fresh colors and little to no blemishes in the skin. Once you found the perfect specimens, store them, unwashed, in the fridge for up to seven days. Some recommend putting them in an air-tight container to prevent moisture loss, but I’ve kept them in a semi-loose plastic bag for a few days without major detriment. If your own squash garden is overflowing (or have recently received an over-abundance in your CSA shipment), a quick steam (not boil) before popping them in the freezer is an excellent storage option that retains nutrients and antioxidants.
Though mild in flavor, they pair with a variety of seasonings making them extremely versatile in the kitchen. Squash sing when coupled with herbs like basil, mint, parsley and dill. Tomatoes, another summer special, roast up nicely alongside crooknecks or pattypans. Golden raisins add sweetness to squash, pine nuts, parsley and lemon juice (some shaved, aged parmesan would be a nice, nutty addition here, too.)
Recipe: Summer Squash, Goat Cheese, and Herb Roulades
Makes 12 roulades
This recipe could not be easier to make and looks just as pretty as in the picture. The little roulades would be a nice starter or side for any summer meal and easy to set out at a party (not to mention “roulade” is so fun to say). Grilling or broiling the squash accentuates its nutty flavor.
- 2 medium yellow crookneck squash, cut lengthwise into 12 ¼-inch planks
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 4 oz. fresh goat cheese, softened
- 1 Tbs. finely chopped black olives
- ½ tsp. fresh lemon zest
- 2 tsp. finely chopped basil or mint; plus 12 fresh basil or mint leaves, divided
- Heat grill or grill pan to high. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush squash on both sides with oil, and season with salt and pepper, if desired.
- Grill squash 6 to 8 minutes, turning once. Transfer to plate to cool.
- Combine goat cheese, olives, lemon zest, and chopped basil; season with salt and pepper, if desired.
- Arrange squash slices on cutting board; spread 2 tsp. goat cheese mixture on each slice, and set 1 basil leaf on top of goat cheese at narrow end. Roll slices up from narrow end, and arrange on prepared baking sheet. (If not serving right away, refrigerate, and bring to room temp before reheating.)
- To serve: Preheat oven to 375°F. Warm roulades 4 to 5 minutes, or until warm but not hot.
Liv Lee has a Masters degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Teachers College, Columbia University and is completing her dietetic internship to become a Registered Dietitian.
Slater, Nigel. (2009). Tender: A cook and his vegetable patch. New York, NY: Ten Speed Press.
SELF Nutrition Data. Summer squash, all varieties, raw. Accessed on August 22, 2015 from http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2748/2.
Vegetarian Times. Summer Squash, Goat Cheese and Herb Roulades recipe and image. Accessed on August 22, 2015 from http://www.vegetariantimes.com/recipe/summer-squash-goat-cheese-and-herb-roulades/.
Wikipedia. Summer Squash. Accessed on August 22, 2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_squash
World’s Healthiest Foods. Summer Squash. Accessed on August 22, 2015 from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=62.