These colorful squash are easy to grow, with the promise of a bumper crop.
Credit: Photo: Oxmoor House

SEASON: Summer

CHOOSING: Look for smooth, blemish-free squashes. A small, tender squash is preferable to an oversized, seedy one.

STORING: Place squash in a produce bag in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator for up to a week.

GROWING: The basic summer squashes are yellow (crookneck or straightneck), zucchini (green or yellow, long or round), and pattypan (scallop). The plants are similar, growing like a large shrub with fuzzy leaves that make your arms itch.

Squash needs a sunny spot and is grown from seeds sown in hills—a small mound made by digging a hole and filling it full of good compost mixed with the existing soil. Plant about five seeds in the resulting 1-foot-wide, slightly raised bed. Space the hills about 3 to 5 feet apart, depending on the size of the plants you’re growing.

Immediately after the danger of frost has passed, push seeds about an inch deep into each hill, water, and wait about a week. If needed, thin each hill to contain only two plants, one on each side of the hill.

If your plant is covered in blooms but you see no squash, never fear. The first blooms are male; the female flowers (those with tiny fruits at the base of the bloom) will begin appearing shortly thereafter. Harvest these edible male squash blossoms early in the morning, when they are fully open, for a homegrown delicacy stuffed and sautéed—just leave enough male and female blooms to create future fruits.

If summer squashes are left on the plant, they grow quite large, developing a hard rind and big seeds. However, these big guys lack the culinary appeal of smaller, tender squashes; remove them from the plant, and place them on the compost pile. Plant again about a month after the first sowing if you have room for a second crop.[pagebreak]

Whether it's a backyard plot or a few planters on a balcony or fire escape, cooks with home gardens can savor the seasonal taste of just-harvested yellow squash and zucchini. With its swanlike neck, pale flesh, and mild taste, yellow squash and its long, straight, green cousin zucchini are perfect for blending with other ingredients or in simple preparations highlighting the taste of fresh herbs. Because they have a high water content, they don't require much cooking; raw, they add nice texture to a salad of greens or a crudités plate. In addition, yellow squash and zucchini are good sources of vitamins A and C, and fiber, as well.

If you have your own garden, you probably know you'll have an abundance of yellow squash and zucchini from early to late summer; you may see them in markets is some regions year round. Whether you're gathering them from the backyard or supermarket produce bins, though, choose smaller ones with bright-colored, blemish-free skins. Refrigerate in plastic bags for no more than five days.

A bumper crop of squash can challenge the inventiveness of the most dedicated cook. But here are some summer squash and zucchini recipes to get you started.