Pattypan, yellow crookneck, baby zucchini... these are all types of summer squash. Summer squash are a subset of squashes that are harvested when immature (while the rind is still tender and edible). All summer squashes are the fruits of the species Cucurbita pepo (although not all squashes of this species are considered summer squashes), but they are considered vegetables in terms of culinary use. The name "summer squash" refers to the short storage life of these squashes, unlike that of winter squashes.
Summer squash is an excellent source of manganese and vitamin C. It is also a very good source of magnesium, vitamin A, dietary fiber, potassium, copper, folate, and phosphorus. In addition, summer squash is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, calcium, zinc, niacin, and protein.
Summer squash, particularly the yellow variety, is a very popular vegetable in the South.The delicate flavor, soft shell and creamy white flesh of summer squash is a perfect addition to any summer meal. Squash are relatives of both the melon and the cucumber and come in many different varieties. While each type varies in shape, color, size and flavor, they all share some common characteristics. The entire vegetable, including its flesh, seeds and skin, is edible. In addition, some varieties of the squash plant produce edible flowers. Unlike winter squash, summer squash are more fragile and cannot be stored for long periods of time.
Another food gift from the indigenous peoples of the new world: Modern day squash developed from the wild squash that originated in an area between Guatemala and Mexico. While squash has been consumed for over 10,000 years, they were first cultivated specifically for their seeds since earlier squashes did not contain much flesh and what they did contain was very bitter and unpalatable. As time progressed, squash cultivation spread throughout the Americas, and varieties with a greater quantity of sweeter-tasting flesh were developed. Christopher Columbus brought squash back to Europe from the New World, and like other native American foods, their cultivation was introduced throughout the world by Portuguese and Spanish explorers. Today, the largest commercial producers of squash include China, Japan, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, and Argentina.
Although not as potent as root vegetables like burdock, garlic or onion, squashes have been found to have anti-cancer type effects. Although phytonutrient research on squash is limited, some lab studies have shown vegetable juices obtained from squash to be parallel to juices made from leeks, pumpkin, and radish in their ability to prevent cell mutations (cancer-like changes).
In research studies, extracts from squash have also been found to help reduce symptoms of a condition occurring in men called benign prostatic hypertrophy, or BPH. In this condition, the prostate gland becomes problematically enlarged, which can cause difficulty with urinary and sexual function. Particularly in combination with other phytonutrient-containing foods, squash may be helpful in reducing BPH symptoms.
Many of these nutrients have been shown in studies to be helpful for the prevention of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. Summer squash's magnesium has been shown to be helpful for reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Together with the potassium in summer squash, magnesium is also helpful for reducing high blood pressure. The vitamin C and beta-carotene found in summer squash can help to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. Since oxidized cholesterol is the type that builds up in blood vessel walls, these nutrients may help to reduce the progression of atherosclerosis. The vitamin folate found in summer squash are needed by the body to break down a dangerous metabolic byproduct called homocysteine, which can contribute to heart attack and stroke risk if levels get too high. Finally, summer squash's fiber has been shown to lower high cholesterol levels, which can help to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
Sprinkle grated zucchini or other summer squash on top of salads and sandwiches.
Enjoy an easy to make ratatouille by healthy sautéing summer squash, onions, bell peppers, eggplant and tomatoes and then simmering the mixture in tomato sauce. Season to taste.
Serve raw summer squash with your favorite dips.
Add zucchini or other summer squash to your favorite muffin or bread recipe; decrease the amount of liquid in the recipe by about one-third to compensate for the moisture present in the squash.
Oven Baked Squash (Calabaza al Horno)
Big recipe page for Zucchini & Other Summer Squash Ideas
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