Did you know that squash are actually a fruit even though most people associate them with being a vegetable?
What is a squash?
Part of the gourd family, they grow on herbaceous vines and are commonly split into three subcategories: pumpkin, squash and gourd or labeled winter or summer squash.
There are two main types of summer squash:
Zucchini– yellow and green, if they have a curly top, they are known as crookneck.
Scallop– also known as pattypan, yellow or green, they kind of look like mini pressed pumpkins and have a scalloped exterior.
Summer squash are mostly characterized by having thin skins that are more appealing than thick-skinned winter squash. Their seeds are soft, so they don’t have to be remember prior to consumption.
They also have tender flesh that tastes better cooked, but is edible raw, and are high in vitamin A, vitamin C and niacin.
Mild in flavor, they are great as a base for low carb meals, seasoning with all sorts of herbs and spices or using for zoodles. Because of their high water content, they are best cooked over quick and high heat- broiled, baked on high temps or sauteed.
Of course, zoodles are just dunked in boiling water to get a little tender.
Even though they are called winter squash, they are grown and harvested in the summer but have a longer shelf life at room temperature than summer squash.
In the old days, these were kept in cellars for the cold months rather than being eaten immediately like their buddies the summer squash. To this day, you’ll find these squash considered to be more of a fall meal.
They have thicker skins that are edible, but not pleasant and much larger seeds that need to be removed prior to cooking. However, you can roast them and apply ranch or blackened seasoning to serve them as a snack.
Best cooked by roasting, braising, steaming and simmered. You can also make several variaties into “mashed” squash, like mashed potatoes… but not.
The main varieties are:
Acorn squash– looks like a large acorn with scalloped edges green and yellow exterior and yellowish-orange interior
Spaghetti Squash– oblong, they are bright yellow with yellow flesh that is very stringy (hence the name spaghetti). Use a fork to tear out pieces and use a noodle substitute.
Calabaza- beige and tannish, they look like squat little pumpkins.
Butternut squash– wide base with a skinnier neck and usually a yellowish-tan skin.
Although it is said the season is spring to fall, I find my farmers market has a tight window for squash blossoms that is only about 2 weeks long.
They are edible and slightly sweet. I like them best stuffed with cheese, battered and fried… but you can also use them for a garnish or in salad.
To pick good ones, they are closed and a little saggy or limp. This is how they are supposed to be.
While most folks just think of Halloween or Thanksgiving, there are many varieties of pumpkin. The giant jack-o-lantern pumpkins are a different spices than a pie pumpkin, which is small and sweet used for making pumpkin puree.
And did you know that most canned pumpkin puree isn’t pumpkin at all? It is usually blend of other types of squash with more flavor. Actual pumpkin is a little bland until it is introduced to seasoning.
The flesh and seeds are typically eaten and roasted, sauteed or baked. You will also see everything from pumpkin chili or pumpkin blended drinks, although many times they are only referring to pumpkin pie spice, not the actual squash.
Gourds are squash, but most are not edible. They are more common for ornamental reasons around the fall holidays. They come in all sorts of interesting shapes, sizes and colors which makes them fun for decorating.
Chayote are one gourd that is edible- a green wrinkly, funny looking squash, they can be subbed into many squash recipes.
How to Cook Squash
Squash can be cooked any number of ways and the decision will depend on the type of squash and the recipe. However, you can saute, roast, bake, grill and cook squash on the stovetop. all are acceptable!