Yin and Yang of Summer Squash

by R.B. Quinn and Min Merrell

One sure sign that summer is in full swing is the continuous presence of yellow squash and zucchini in the CSA box, at farmers markets and in produce aisles everywhere. What to do? View the two abundant squash varieties as the yin and yang of summer. While the two look similar and pair together perfectly, they’re wholly different vegetables.

The main difference? Yellow squash is best when cooked slowly in butter until very soft. Zucchini is best when cooked quickly, just until just crisp tender, in olive oil. Rough cut the squash however you like because in the end, shape doesn’t matter. Shape does matter with zucchini. Cut it with precision into very thin rounds, tiny cubes or thin sticks that will stay true after a quick sauté. To maximize what zucchini has to offer, try a mandoline.

Consider this: have you ever had zucchini that’s been cooked until the green turns almost gray, the flavor disappearing into a watery mess? And how about those thick, intimidating chunks of barely cooked yellow squash in a restaurant vegetable medley? Not good.

Zucchini seems more city sophisticated; yellow squash seems more country cooking. One is lean and crisp, the other sumptuous and creamy. Adorn the zucchini with a shaved hard cheese and the yellow squash with melted sharp cheddar. Zucchini likes tomato, yellow squash not so much. And no one wants Ritz cracker crumbs on zucchini, but we sure do love it on yellow squash.

When prepared correctly, what the two share is that both are the easiest sides to fix and pair well with just about any summer menu. We like zucchini topped with toasted slivered almonds and a sprinkling of Parmesan or stirred up with fresh Tennessee tomato. The yellow squash is a meat-and-three lover’s dream scooped alongside hot cornbread. Add shredded cheddar cheese or chunks of ham, and you’ve got a main dish.


Yellow Squash

Skillet Saucepan
Olive oil Butter
Medium-High Heat Medium-Low Heat
Cook quickly, only until crisp-tender Cook slowly, allow to fall apart
No added liquid A shot of water to help it soften
Parmesan, hard grating cheese Cheddar, melting cheese

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