What's Fresh, Toronto? Summer Squash!
Summer squash are a subset of squash that are harvested immaturely, while the flesh and skin are tender and soft. These young summer fruits (they are technically fruit) belong to the larger family Cucurbita pepo (or C. pepo), with other varieties of squash, gourds, and pumpkins.
The C. pepo family is native to the Americas, where remains dating all the way back to 7000 BC have been found in Mexico and Central America. The name "squash" comes from the Algonquin "askoot asquash" which means "eaten green" or "eaten raw". Early explorers brought the fruit back to Europe where it picked up the name "zucchini" in Italy and "courgette" in France and England. Squash is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, magnesium and manganese.
We all know the king of the summer squash, the zucchini. They are usually dark green or yellow, often with stripes of lighter green or pale white.
Summer crooknecks are yellow, with a slimmer curled (crooked) neck and an elegant belly. When standing vertically they kind of remind me of penguins. They typically have a smooth skin, but some have a pebbled texture and some have no crook in their neck at all.
Pattypans are also called Peter Pans, scallops and scallopini. In the southern United States, they are known as simlins, symblings or cymlings. They are small and rounded, like flattened spheres, and are the cutest of the summer squash with their fluted tops. You can find them in yellow, pale green or creamy white.
Especially for zucchini, look for small young fruits (the baby zucchini may still have a small flower attached), which will be sweeter and easier to cook. Larger, more mature squash tend to be waterlogged and the seeds will be bitter.
What to do with these soft delicacies when you get them home? The first thing to do is enjoy them quickly. Summer squash are delicate (handle with care!) and have a relatively short shelf life of only a few days.
In general, summer squash have a delicate nutty flavour. They are a very versatile summer goodie that can be poached, blanched, sautĂŠed, or breaded and deep-fried. Zucchini and pattypans are popular for hollowing out and stuffing with things like cheese, rice and herbs.
You can do a la French and cook them up in Ratatouille, or shred them and make fritters with egg and flour and serve with some yogurt. A dish of poached egg, shredded zucchini and tomato sauce is another option popular in Italy (or at least with my Italian grandfather), or they can be simply enjoyed by sautĂŠeing with garlic and olive oil.
Let us not forget the flowers! Zucchini flowers are edible and another short-lived summer treat. These gorgeous golden receptacles are also very popular for breading, stuffing and deep-frying (although the flowers from the winter varieties are much bigger and easier to stuff). And who doesn't love a good 'ol zucchini frittata garnished with the flowers? How about Chef David Lee's Chilled Ontario Zucchini Soup?
Any way you choose to enjoy them, run out and grab some summer squash and their gorgeous flowers ASAP.
As the growing season continues, I'll be keeping track of what is becoming available each step of the way, and will share my findings in this here farm fresh feature "What's Fresh, Toronto?" Stay tuned for future installments.
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