Summer squash is the edible fruit of Cucurbita pepo, a highly diverse plant species that belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family, along with gourds and melons. It’s harvested before full maturity and should be consumed within five to seven days. The skin, seeds and flesh of summer squash can be eaten cooked or raw.1,2,3,4 Its flowers are also edible and are even considered a favorite food to many in Mexico.5
Summer squash is known for its carotenoid content, particularly lutein and zeaxanthin,6 which can help protect your eyes against oxidative stress.7 It’s also a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, manganese, vitamin B6, riboflavin and folate. Plus, it contains vitamin A and K, thiamin, niacin, copper and phosphorus.8
Keep in mind, though, that squash also contains sugar,9 which can put you at risk of metabolic problems if consumed excessively.10 Make sure to eat summer squash in moderation.
4 basic types of summer squash
Summer squash varieties come in different shapes and sizes, with “a mild flavor that can range from sweet to nutty,” according to The Kitchn.11 Although their differences in flavor may be subtle, they may still be distinct enough to affect how your dish tastes when you use the wrong type of summer squash, so it’s important to be able to differentiate between types. Most summer squash available in supermarkets fall under these four basic types:12,13,14
- Zucchini — One of the most popular types of summer squash, zucchini has striped, speckled or solid yellow or green skin, depending on the cultivar. It has a slightly sweet flavor and a smooth texture. While most zucchinis are cylindrical, some cultivars have a spherical shape.15
- Scallop-type — Also called pattypan squash, this type of summer squash has scalloped edges and comes in various shades of yellow and green.16,17
- Yellow squash — Not to be confused with yellow zucchini, yellow squash is available in straight neck and crook neck varieties, both of which have bulbous bottoms and narrow necks. Their seeds are also larger than other types of summer squash.18,19
- Zephyr — Often recognized for its eye-catching color, zephyr squash is “a hybrid between yellow crook neck, delicata and yellow acorn squash,” according to The Kitchn. The color of its bottom portion ranges from light green to dark green, while its upper portion is pale yellow.20
How to cook summer squash
Summer squash is a versatile ingredient that can be added to different dishes, including casseroles, soups, salads and even desserts. Here are some of the ways you can cook it:21
- Sautéing — Sautéing summer squash is quick and easy. Here’s how:22
- Slice the summer squash into thin pieces.
- Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, then sauté the squash slices in coconut oil, stirring constantly, until they're crisp-tender. Add in seasonings like salt and pepper for extra flavor.
- Steaming — Steamed summer squash makes for a great side dish. Follow these steps:23
- Cut the summer squash into thin slices and place them in a colander or steamer basket.
- Place the colander or basket over a pot of boiling water.
- Cover the pot and leave it to steam until you can pierce the squash with a fork, about seven to 10 minutes.
- Grilling — If you’re bored with the usual mild flavors of summer squash, grill it to add a smoky taste. Here’s how:24,25,26
- Heat the grill to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cut the summer squash into large chunks and coat each piece with coconut oil.
- Once the grill is ready, spread the squash chucks in a single layer on the grill and let them cook for three to five minutes per side.
- Roasting — Roasted summer squash can be eaten as a side dish for roasted meat or as a delicious main dish. Follow this procedure to roast summer squash properly:27
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Toss the cubed squash pieces in a large mixing bowl with coconut oil to coat well. Add in seasonings like salt and pepper, if desired.
- Place the pieces of squash on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast them for 15 minutes.
- Turn the pieces over using a spatula and roast until you can easily pierce the squash with a fork, about 30 to 35 minutes.
Try these tasty summer squash recipes
Now that you know the different ways to cook summer squash, put your newfound cooking skills to the test by making any of these nutritious and appetizing recipes:
Summer squash salad
- 4 cups julienned zucchini
- 4 cups julienned yellow squash
- 2 cups sliced radishes
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup organic apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Himalayan salt
- 1 teaspoon dill weed
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- In a large bowl, toss the zucchini, squash and radishes together.
- Whisk the remaining ingredients in a separate, smaller bowl, then pour the mixture on the vegetables.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.
(Recipe adapted from Taste of Home28)
Keto Southern squash casserole
- 4 tablespoons ghee
- 6 cups diced yellow squash
- 1/2 cup diced onion
- 3 organic free-range eggs
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Himalayan salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a skillet, melt ghee over medium heat until pan is hot.
- Add in the squash and onion, and sauté until tender.
- Place the squash mixture evenly in a 9x13-inch glass dish.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients, except the grated Parmesan cheese. Mix well.
- Pour the mixture over the squash. Top with the grated Parmesan cheese.
- Bake until the cheese is browned and the casserole is set, about 45 minutes. Time will vary depending on how hot your oven runs.
- Let set for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Serve either warm or at room temperature.
(Recipe adapted from The Healing Spoon29)
Roasted zucchini and yellow summer squash
- 6 cups zucchini, cut into large chunks
- 6 cups yellow squash, cut into large chunks
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil, plus extra for greasing the pan
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Heat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease the roasting pan with coconut oil.
- Chop the zucchini and yellow squash and put them into a large bowl. Drizzle with coconut oil and mix with a large spoon until all slices are evenly coated.
- Sprinkle garlic powder, salt and pepper over the squash. Mix again until they’re evenly coated.
- Pour the squash chunks onto roasting pan and spread it out until it evenly covers the pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring once, until cooked through.
(Recipe adapted from Epicurious30)
Roasted yellow squash with basil
- 2 yellow squashes
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 10 basil leaves
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Prepare the yellow squash and cut lengthwise to form thin slices.
- Grease the baking sheet with coconut oil. Neatly arrange the squash slices onto the sheet. Drizzle with some coconut oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the squash for five to seven minutes. Take the strips out from the oven and flip them.
- Chop the basil leaves in half and put a half portion on top of each squash. Top with some shredded Parmesan cheese.
- Place the baking sheet back in the oven and bake for another three to four minutes. Once the cheese has melted, remove it from the oven.
(Recipe adapted from Ketovale31)
How to pick and store summer squash
When buying a summer squash, choose an organically grown squash that’s small to medium in size, with a glossy and vibrantly colored skin. It should also feel firm and heavy for its size. Avoid large summer squash that are dull and tough, as they may have been left on the vine too long. Be sure to handle summer squash carefully, as it bruises easily. You can store summer squash in the fridge for up to five days.32,33,34
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Q: How do you freeze a summer squash?
A: Blanch a cubed summer squash in boiling water for three minutes, then immerse it in ice water. Drain thoroughly and transfer into a tightly sealed container; be sure to leave 1/2-inch of headspace. Store in the freezer for up to three months.35
Q: What does summer squash look like?
A: Most types of summer squash are cylindrical, with yellow or green rinds that are either solid-colored, spotted or striped. However, there are other types of summer squash that have a unique appearance. One example is the pattypan squash.36
Q: Are summer squash and zucchini the same thing?
A: Zucchini is a type of summer squash. Other types include yellow squash, scallop-type and zephyr squash.37
Q: Is zucchini healthier than yellow squash?
A: Zucchini may be healthier than yellow squash. According to a 2015 study published in the journal LWT — Food Science and Technology, zucchini cultivars have the highest carotenoid content out of 22 different types of summer squash tested.38 Zucchini also contains higher amounts of magnesium, potassium, vitamin C and folate than yellow squash.39,40
Q: Are summer squash good for you?
A: Yes. Summer squash are good sources of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. They’re also rich in various vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, magnesium, folate, potassium, manganese and certain B vitamins.41
Q: Can you eat summer squash raw?
A: The skin, seeds and flesh of summer squash can be eaten raw.42
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