Anyone who has ever planned meals around the garden harvest knows there can be too much of a good thing. Eating from the garden is different from buying it at the store. When shopping for food in the supermarket produce aisle, it is easy to get exactly what you need. One bunch of Swiss chard, a sweet pepper or two, and maybe a little box of cherry tomatoes.
Gardens do not grow that way. They are seeds, then developing plants, then there are blossoms, and then wham-o! When a crop is in season, it doesn’t dole out a manageable pound or so a week, giving you time to eat what you have before it delivers more. Instead, it throws a lot at you at once.
Especially if it is summer squash. It seems to explode overnight without warning, going from a few blossoms to a handful of fruits to OH MY GOODNESS. I am pretty sure it has actually happened that I have gone out to the barn and noticed a few ready-to-pick zucchinis as I passed them, spent 15 minutes tending animals, and by the time I walked back past they had all grown to baseball-bat-size.
Even if it does not happen quite that fast, there does seem to be a lot of summer squash and zucchini showing up all at once in the garden. It gets so crazy that friends and coworkers duck for cover when they see gardeners coming, for fear we might be bringing them another armload of squash.
Fortunately, there are plenty of delicious ways to enjoy the bounty of summer squash. Here are my favorite ideas for keeping up with the garden.
1. Raw. Small squashes are perfect in all kind of salads. They can be prepared any way you like. Any shape, any thickness. With or without skins. The pieces are great mixed in with pasta or greens or cherry tomatoes or dressing, or by themselves with dip.
2. Panfried. Fried or chunked, squashes go great in the pan. Use a little oil or butter—I prefer extra virgin olive oil—and spice them up to suit your mood. Use oregano and Italian seasoning for a hint of Mediterranean flavor, or kick it up a notch with a little crushed red peppers or hot sauce. Use Middle Eastern seasonings to side with a nice cut of lamb, or simply salt and pepper in the pan and a sprinkle with parmesan cheese at the table for delightfully simple fare.
3. Breaded. Traditional breading—dip in egg coating and then a flour mixture—is tasty, or you can use tempura batter if you are feeling adventurous. Remember that zucchini can soak up a ton of flavor, so be generous with the flour seasonings.
4. Casseroles and baked dishes. Squash can be sliced thin the long way and used between layers of lasagna and shepherd’s pie, cut up and added to your family’s favorite meat-and-tomato recipes, or mixed into a hot vegetable and rice dish.
5. Ratatouille. This one could really be broadened to “stews,” but I so love this unique thick vegetable stew that I have to give it its own section. But if ratatouille is not quite your thing, then go ahead and mix squashes in with other ingredients for whatever kind of stew you like best. Whether all-vegetable or with meat, summer squashes make an excellent addition to stews.
6. Soups. Of course. Everything goes in soup. Meat, rice, pasta, tomato sauce, stock—and squash.
7. Stir fry and fried rice. Even though these are two completely different dishes, I lump them together here because the act of throwing in whatever is on hand to create one-of-a-kind feasts is the same with both of them. Whether in a pan of Asian greens and vegetables, or rice and soy sauce and meat, summer squashes go nicely.
8. Skillet meals. As with Asian-inspired dishes, skillet meals often turn into a unique composition of food on hand. A few potatoes, leftover chunks of pork chops or steak or breakfast sausages, a few handfuls of cut up zucchini, and bam. Supper in a skillet.
9. Eggs. Zucchini and summer squash make a lovely addition to all things egg. If you live on a homestead and have almost as many eggs as you have vegetables, then you can rejoice that they pair so nicely. A few slices of panfried squash on an egg and cheese sandwich, or a little squash cut up or grated into scrambled eggs or omelets, or a mouthwatering potato and squash frittata—yes, please!
10. Pizza topping. Since I discovered this use for zucchini, I never have any left in the freezer by springtime. Fresh or frozen, zucchini is amazing on pizzas! The secret? Panfry it first. Just a few minutes in a little hot oil with salt and pepper brings out the juices and bakes into a pizza that will knock your socks off.
11. Baked. Once squash gets a little larger, consider baking it. Slice it the long way, scoop out the seeds, cover it with red sauce—I use plenty of Italian seasoning and a dollop of pesto in mine—and layer some cheeses on top. Mozzarella and parmesan work wonderfully. For a change of pace, add some Kalamata olives and feta. Use a baking dish or sheet pan to catch the drippings and bake until tender.
12. Grilled. Slice it the long way and brush it with olive oil and lay the slices right on the grate for a quick sear, or cut it up and in chunks and add to a grill basket of anything from cherry tomatoes to snow peas to eggplant to broccoli. If you’ve got it, grill it!
13. Bread. Everyone loves the rich texture and spicy aroma of fresh-baked zucchini bread. While you are at it, bake a few extra loaves for the freezer to enjoy warmed up with a little whipped cream topping on a cold winter night. But wait! Grated zucchini can be used in yeast bread recipes, as well. Just add it in anytime during the mixing process, and it bakes up beautifully.
14. Muffins. As with bread, grated zucchini turns out a delightful muffin, as well. Here are a few hints about muffins: you can usually substitute grated zucchini for carrots in a muffin recipe. Not only that, but muffin and quick bread recipes are often interchangeable. To convert a muffin recipe to bread, bake it at a lower temperature for a longer time.
15. Cookies. In a season of desperate overabundance of squash several years ago, I did an online search and found several excellent zucchini cookie recipes.
They are so good even picky eaters gobble them up! I use zucchini because that is what I best like to grow, but other kinds of summer squash would also work great. Like other baked sweets, cookies can be tucked into the freezer for later.
16. Cake. Zucchini and yellow squash are perfect grated into cakes. Don’t have a recipe? Just use a carrot cake recipe. You can tweak the spices a little by adding cinnamon, but you do not have to. Or, for a drop-dead divine treat, try a chocolate zucchini cake. The richness swallows up the texture and flavor of squash, leaving just pure chocolate heaven.
17. Mock apples. Yes, you read that right. If all else fails and your best intentions to pick them small do not happen and you are left with a collection of big old squashes, it is still not too late. Peel and core and slice up in the size of apple slices, add the sugars and spices and thickeners you would use for apple dessert, bake it in a crisp or a crust, and see what happens.
18. Preserving. You will want plenty of summer squash on hand to enjoy year-round. Small summer squashes make great pickles, can easily dehydrate into yummy chips, and are a snap to blanch and freeze for later use.
Once you try these ideas for using up summer squash and zucchinis, you will never have too many. So go ahead, plant all the squash you want. And don’t worry about people avoiding you during squash season—just share a few of your yummy results with them, and they’ll be lining up for your bounty.
What squash tips would you add? What creative recipes do you use? Share your tips in the section below: