Updated: Feb 2, 2022
High producing and versatile veggies to keep a gardener busy and happy all summer long!
Summer squash are the soft and tender varieties of squash that are harvested in summertime when young, before the skin hardens. Most common varieties of courgettes (zucchinis) and button squashes (patty pan) are called summer squash and their flesh texture is moist and taste is mild. Harvested in autumn, the winter squash, like spaghetti squash, gourds and all varieties of pumpkins, have hard skin, dense flesh, sweeter taste and can be stored through the winter. All of summer and winter squash are native to the North and Central America but the cylindric green zucchini has been cultivated for centuries in Italy after the introduction of cucurbits. It’s only since growing food in my Aussie backyard that I learnt all about the cultivation of various varieties but also how differently they are named from one continent to another (more about this on “Pumpkin or Squash?” page). But going back to the summer squash; when growing your own you learn that they are extremely productive, economic and fast-growing crops: they start to come out of your ears! The other good news is that there are a number of ways to prepare these versatile vegetables. I’m cooking and eating them most days during summer for a few years now. That gives me the chance to explore so many recipes. When the season is over though, no more zucchinis until the next summer thank you! Not just because I’ve had enough but I’m now finding the ones at the supermarket so soft and disappointing after having so many organic freshies!
Garden summer squash • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2019-21
GROWING & COOKING TIPS
Summer squash are easy to grow from seed and as we live in a cold climate region, I just start them inside or under cover in spring and plant them out after the last frosts. The mistake I often make when transplanting is not leaving enough room for a single plant, and plant too many… But I don’t mind the “squash party” all summer long and there is always a friend or neighbour happy to take some when my fridge crisper is full! The zucchini varieties like “black beauty” and “cocozelle” are the best I find and I pick some every day in peak time when the vegetable measures about 15 to 20 cm. Sometimes I miss one and find a jumbo courgette, which becomes a bit too hard and moist on the inside but I just cut it in two and give it as a treat to the chooks, they really love it! As for button (patty pan) squashes, they are also very productive if planted at the right spot but they seem to be a little more fussy… Once I had a magic plant that produced so many perfect yellow scallop-edged little squash and I was harvesting a big bowl every day. That year I made many photos, cooking experiments, preserves and market sales with them, they were gold! Another interesting and very delicious productive plant that can be harvested as summer or winter squash if left to mature is the climbing tromboncino. I’ll get back to this one later!
Summer squash condiments • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2019
Zucchini flowers are edible but I’m letting them go to the bees as we’re satisfied enough with the vegetable. As a side, the squash are delicious sliced and grilled on the BBQ, stir fried, steamed and ribboned on salad. I love them grated into pasta, savoury cakes (like fritters) and quiches. Some bake them into sweet cakes and bread. They are also very lovely into Italian style recipes like pizzas, lasagne and they can even replace noodles if grated with a julienne peeler. Larger ones can be baked as “boats” and stuffed with whatever ingredients desired. They are so mild that they pair with everything mostly. There are times when over-abundance becomes overwhelming so another great way not to waste them is to pack them in jars as beautiful condiments that will save for up to a year. I love my homemade courgette pickles and summer squash relish. At the end of the summer, leaves start to be affected by powdery mildew and the plant will die as the weather gets cooler. It is best to discard or burn the plant as the mildew can live in the compost over winter. Then it is time to say goodbye for now, and look after harvesting and cooking the winter squash for a change!
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