Market Mondays – Summer Squash

Summer squash (aka. zucchini) can be both a delight and a bane to home gardeners. A delight because zucchini are a fruitful fruit (while treated as a vegetable in the kitchen, zucchini and all squash are technically fruit) – they’re easy to grow and the fruit grows quickly, they’re also a bane because they’re almost too prodigious and home gardeners tend to find themselves with more zucchini than they know what to do with. In the peak of the season some will even take to leaving bags of summer squash on their neighbours’ doorsteps under cover of night just to get rid of some of their harvest.

Curcubita pepo is a member of the melon family, with distant relations to the cucumber. Squash originated in the Americas and was introduced to Europe by Columbus. The zucchini that we know today is a variety of squash that was developed in Italy. While there are a variety of different shapes and sizes of summer squash (ranging in shape from the spaceship-looking patty pan to round fruit the size of billiard balls), they can all be treated as one would a zucchini for cooking purposes.

While it’s tempting for home gardeners to let their zucchini grow huge (and they will get massive if you let them), the squash actually taste and cook best when picked at 20cm in length or less. Overly-mature fruit can be both fibrous and watery.

The zucchini lends itself to a variety of cuisines. In France, the courgette is a principal ingredient in ratatouille. It shows up in Thai and Vietnamese recipes, and diners in Japanese restaurants can expect to see the fruit deep-fried in tempura. Many cultures especially value the bright yellow flowers attached to the fresh fruit, and these can be stuffed and fried, or used as filling for dishes like Mexican quesadilla. And let’s not forget that the zucchini bakes up nicely as well, either stuffed with meat and cheese or in a loaf or muffins – the last resort of the home gardener with a lot of summer squash to use up.

Nutritionally, the zucchini’s best point is that it is low in calories, although frying is likely to negate that benefit. Zucchinis contain useful amounts of folate and Vitamin A, and a decent amount of Vitamin C.

When buying zucchini or other summer squash, look for fruit that are unblemished and heavy for their size. Darker-skinned fruit have more nutrients than lighter fruit, so unless you’re choosing the fruit for their colour for a certain dish, green ones are better nutritionally than yellow.

Chilled Summer Squash Soup with Basil
from Christopher Palik, Executive Chef, L-Eat Catering and Paese Ristorante

Extra virgin olive oil
1-1/4 pounds yellow squash, cubed
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 tsp of ground fennel
2-1/2 cups of vegetable stock
1-3/4 cups low-fat buttermilk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Makes 5 to 6 servings

You will need a cutting board, paring knife, medium sauce pot, wooden spoon, and a blender.

Place the olive oil into the pot and over medium heat cook the fennel powder 1 minute or until toasted. Add the squash and onions and cook until translucent. Add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil, remove from the heat and allow to cool until room temperature. Place squash mixture in a blender and add the basil process until smooth. Pour mixture into a bowl; cover and chill. Stir in the buttermilk and salt. Garnish with fresh torn basil and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Zucchini Brownies
This recipe from is dedicated to the home gardeners with too many zucchini. Covering them with chocolate is never a bad plan.

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded zucchini
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup margarine
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9×13 inch baking pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the oil, sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla until well blended. Combine the flour, 1/2 cup cocoa, baking soda and salt; stir into the sugar mixture. Fold in the zucchini and walnuts. Spread evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until brownies spring back when gently touched.

To make the frosting, melt together the 6 tablespoons of cocoa and margarine; set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, blend together the confectioners’ sugar, milk and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in the cocoa mixture. Spread over cooled brownies before cutting into squares.