Black Beauty, Gold Rush, Zephyr, Rond de Nice, Peter Pan, Eight Ball, Crook Neck, Middle Eastern; yellow, gold, black, deep green, white; long, skinny, thin, scalloped, round, trumpet shaped; only a prolific vegetable could come in such a bounty of enticing names, colors, and shapes. Summer squash, in its most general term, is a highly underestimated vegetable (or fruit I should say). I say underestimated because, like tomatoes which also have the same prolific nature, summer squash is available year round in every grocery store, yet in only 2-3 varieties. It is easy to take them for granted, as if they should be available year round. But like a tomato out of season, summer squash out of season can be watery, soggy, flimsy, and pithy, with no real flavor except that of which it is cooked in. I think my appreciation and love for all foods seasonal began with this fruit, and like so many other gardeners, it was one of the first foods I ever grew. Of course, again like everyone else, I planted about 8-9 plants thinking I could keep up with them. A truly rewarding experience as I shoved summer squash into every willing and not so willing refrigerator. My husband drew the line one night as we sat down to a dinner of sauteed zucchini, summer squash salad, and squash fritters. I am only allowed to plant 4-5 plants at the most now!
Come mid May to early June, farmers market stands everywhere are over piled with summer squash of all kinds. Look for, and even ask for, more interesting and unknown varieties such as trumpet squash (a sort of bulbed squash with a long, slender neck and golden green color. The flesh is a golden yellow with a butter flavor.); or Eight Ball (a perfectly round, very dark green ball of squash that does look quite similar to an eight ball). Don't be afraid to buy outside of the conventional zucchini and crook neck, you will be pleasantly surprised. When cooking such a tender food, the most devastating thing we can do is to overcook. Please do not overcook your squash, I am begging you! A few minutes in a saute pan is all it needs. Avoid adding extra water or too much moisture to summer squash, unless it is the form of a beautiful homemade dressing. Summer squash made into a raw salad is also a terrific way to utilize this abundant fruit. Just slice thin, or peel into ribbons, dress with a little lemon juice and a good glug of outstanding cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, a summer herb such as basil, salt, and fresh ground black pepper. A terrific side dish for a BBQ. Add a few quartered grape tomatoes and some toasted whole grain bread spread with goat's cheese for a satisfying lunch. Your options are limitless.
The recipe below contains another prolific, truly summer vegetable with a general name; fresh summer beans. In this recipe I used the very first Romano beans available. Romano beans, also known as Italian flat beans, are a delicious, meaty, tender alternative to the classic round Kentucky Wonder or Blue Lake green bean. Romano beans are flat and wide, with a round bean inside, and like other summer beans and wax beans, they come in a range of greens to yellows to purples, and need minimal cooking. Look for them at your market, or even grow your own. They grow exactly like other fresh bush beans and the seeds can be found just about anywhere. Make a small spot for them in your summer garden and you will have plenty! They are wonderful with lots of olive oil and garlic, or lightly steamed and mixed with cucumbers and tomatoes with olive oil, salt, and black pepper. Their flavor is delicate, so keep it simple. Romano beans are also a classic addition to any summer minestrone (see the Spring Minestrone entry from Monday, April 28th).
Sauteed Summer Squash and Romano Beans with Tarragon
-1 generous tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
-4 summer squash of any kind, washed, cut in half, and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
-1/2 pound Romano beans, cut into thirds
-1 large garlic clove, minced
-salt and fresh ground pepper
-1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. When hot, add in the sliced summer squash and Romano beans. Season with a little salt and pepper. Saute about 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until the squash and beans begin to soften on the edges. Add in the garlic and saute 2 more minutes, or until the squash and beans are tender but still slightly crisp to the bite. Turn off the heat and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the chopped tarragon and serve. This is also fantastic with toasted pine nuts added at the end of the saute.