Maybe it's because summer squash are just so pretty. Who can resist baby zucchinis with their dark green skin, or gorgeous pattypans that look like edible sunbursts? After issuing such an intense visual invitation in the market, it seems unfair when they don't cooperate in the kitchen. But gorgeous summer squash can be a little like those gorgeous guys in high school: you get 'em home and they're a little bland.
They don't have to be, however. The trick to banishing blandness and preserving squash's sweetness and delicacy of flavor is deceptively simple. (Or at least I tell myself it's deceptive because it took me so long to figure it out.) Just keep water out of the cooking process. If, like me, you grew up in a house where summer squash was steamed or boiled, you may also be suspicious of the value of this vegetable. In that case, try sauteing. Try baking. Try grilling. Those methods dry out this naturally watery vegetable, intensifying its flavor instead of washing it out. And because summer squash are mild, they are a great vehicle for stronger flavors such as dried and fresh herbs, garlic, and the tomatoes that will come later in the summer.
Summer squash come in a variety of shapes and colors, from elongated zucchinis to the descriptively named crookneck to pattypans, which are plump disks with scalloped edges that look rather like a child's drawing of a flower. Smaller squash taste the best, no matter what variety they are. Don't buy squash that are soft or wrinkled or have brown spots. If you are lucky enough to get squash with the flowers attached, those too are edible; try sauteing them with a little olive oil. (The flowers are fragile, so cook them as soon as possible.) Store squash in perforated plastic bags in the fridge.
Pattypan Sandwich (serves 4 as a side dish)
I developed this recipe because pattypan squash are so beautiful, it's a shame to cut them up. But any other squash will taste as good.
1 1/2 lbs pattypan squash
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
3 Tbsp. goat cheese
oil for pan
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice the pattypans in half as you would a hamburger bun. Lightly grease a roasting pan. Roast the pattypans, cut side up, until almost tender (about 20 minutes). Flip and roast until easily cut through with a knife (bout 5 minutes). Let cool slightly. Spread goat cheese on cut side of one half of each cut squash and sprinkle with dill. Put together both sides, as in a sandwich, and serve.
Herbed squash (serves 4 as a side dish)
1 1/2 lbs. summer squash or zucchini
2 Tbsp. fresh sage
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme
1 Tbsp. olive oil.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash into 1 inch cubes. Mix oil and herbs and toss with squash. Place in a roasting pan and roast until tender (about 15 minutes).
Sauteed Summer Medly (serves 4 as a side dish)
1 1/2 lbs. summer squash or zucchini or mix
1 red pepper
1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Slice onions and pepper into thin strips. Cut squash into 1 inch cubes. Mince garlic. Saute onion and pepper until onion is translucent. Add garlic; saute a minute more. Add squash and saute until slightly browned. Add salt and pepper to taste.