15 Tips You Need When Cooking With Summer Squash

That time of year hits hard when you can't hide from the summer squash boom. It's on every menu, at every potluck, and in every basket of garden veggies given to you by your neighbor. It's inexpensive to buy, easy to grow, and mild enough in flavor that even picky eaters tend to enjoy it. And luckily, it's quite versatile, so even if your counter is overflowing with green and yellow squash, there are plenty of ways you can use it up. Just follow some basic tips you need when cooking with summer squash to get started.

Yellow zucchini, green zucchini, and pattypan squash tend to dominate the world of summer squash, but there are quite a few other varieties you can experiment with. One thing they all have in common is that they have a mild sweetness to them, a light grassy undertone, and soften quickly when cooked. They can be eaten raw, pickled, or cooked, and make for a fantastic addition to your summer grilling. Unlike the winter variety, summer squash is easy to work with, and the seeds are conveniently edible when raw. And technically, zucchini is one of those fruits that is commonly mistaken as a vegetable, but since everyone but botanists seem to refer to it as a vegetable, we are going to follow suit.

Leave the skin on

While it might be tempting to go full cucumber and shave off some of your summer squash's skin, we recommend leaving it on, especially if you plan on cooking it. This means even if you're shredding, spiralizing, or dicing it, let those green and yellow colors shine. Unlike winter squash, summer squash has very tender skin that softens when cooked, and helps to keep all of the good juices contained. It also helps to preserve the structure and shape of the zucchini, as it can become mushy if overcooked.

If you do plan on cutting your zucchini lengthwise into strips, consider making spears so as to include enough skin in each section. If you'd prefer long cross-section strips, then be sure to leave them thick enough, about a ¼ inch or more, especially if you're throwing them on the barbecue. Zucchini cooks quickly, and the skin is no exception. Keep an eye on your veggies, and if you must flip them or pick it up, do so on the heartier side with the remaining skin.

Don't toss those blossoms

If you grow your own squash, then you know just how beautiful those yellow-orange blossoms can be. They're big, bold, and bright. While the female flowers produce the zucchini themselves, the male blossom's purpose is to fertilize, so once they've hung around long enough for some wandering insects to do their job, they die. Don't let them go to waste! Squash blossoms are a delicacy, and there is so much you can do with them.

Keep things simple and add them raw to your salads. The pop of color and beautiful appearance will be enough to wow your family or guests. Because they are totally edible, you can use them as a garnish in any dish, raw or sautéed. Classically, you'll find stuffed squash blossoms on the menu of high-end restaurants when they are in season. These blossoms are typically stuffed with soft cheese, lightly battered, and fried. They can also be stuffed and baked in the oven as a healthier alternative.

Grill it

One of the biggest mistakes vegetarians make is giving away their grill after they've given up meat. Do not fall into this trap. Vegetables are delectable when grilled, and summer squash is no exception. When it comes to chopping the zucchini up for the grill, there are several ways you can slice it. If you plan on placing your veggies right onto the grates, keep the slices long and opt for spears. Alternatively, you can use skewers for diced veggies, or a grill basket for cross-section disks.

As you would for anything going on the grill, veggie-based or not, it's never a bad idea to whip up a marinade. This is perhaps one of the best grilling and barbecue tips for vegetables this summer. While vegetables can hold their own in the flavor department, they shouldn't have to, especially when going up against dry rubs and barbecue sauces. Use tamari and olive oil as a base, and add additional spices to your liking. A little citrus or balsamic never hurt, and dried herbs and granulated aromatics can be quite attention-grabbing.

Slice it into thin strips for lasagna

Gluten-free folks have been searching far and wide for pasta alternatives since the first Celiac diagnosis. And while rice and chickpea pasta can get the job done, there's nothing better than subbing for a fresh garden vegetable. Cut your zucchini into long, thin, strips and layer into your ricotta and sauce like you would noodles.

Keep in mind that if you're using a recipe that calls for noodles, noodles will typically absorb moisture, while zucchini puts off moisture when cooked. Adjust accordingly, especially if the recipe calls for no-bake noodles which require quite a bit of excess moisture in order to cook properly. As an alternative to a sheet pan lasagna, try zucchini lasagna roll-ups. Roll your cheese and fillings into thin strips of zucchini before dousing them with sauce and baking. Serving is a breeze, as each person gets their own individual roll-up. This is a great option if you have a household with picky eaters or vegetarians, as you can adjust each roll-up accordingly.

Bread and fry

As more and more people purchase air fryers, culinary creativity in the kitchen has flourished. While Americans still prioritize the basic potato french fry, there are so many other fried vegetables that have found their way into the spotlight over the last decade. Particularly, fried Brussels sprouts and cauliflower have stepped onto the scene, along with zucchini fries.

Zucchini fries can be made out of any kind of summer squash, but unlike a traditional french fry must be breaded or battered to hold its structure. For a simple batter, mix chickpea flour with water and spices. Dip your zucchini, cut into fry shapes, into the batter, and bake in your oven or air fryer. A traditional batter of flour and water, or egg works as well. Consider rolling your battered zucchini fries in seasoned breading before baking. These little fries taste delicious when dipped into flavored aiolis rather than traditional ketchup.

Stuff zucchini boats

There are plenty of vegetables out there that you should be stuffing, and summer squash is certainly one of them. In fact, it's one of the easier vegetables to stuff because it can typically cook at the same rate as its filling, and doesn't need to be precooked like winter squash. Stuffed summer squash is referred to as stuffed zucchini boats, and they are mild enough in flavor to host almost any style of stuffing.

Cut off the stem of your squash and slice lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out the soft center where the seeds are. This will create a small crater for your stuffing ingredients. For Mediterranean stuffed zucchini boats, add quinoa, chickpeas, basil, tomatoes, olives, herbs, and sauces. Be sure the quinoa, or any grain or meat is pre-cooked before adding it to your boat. Roast the entire boat in the oven until the zucchini is soft, and the stuffing is warm. For a Mexican-style zucchini boat, add chili or beans drenched in enchilada sauce. Top with cheddar cheese and bake until the zucchini is soft and the cheese has melted. Once it's out of the oven top it with sour cream, sliced tomato, onion, and avocado.

Grate into fritters

If you're a fan of hash browns and fritters, then it's about time you cracked your way into the world of shredded zucchini. And who doesn't love a savory breakfast pancake that can be topped with sour cream and green onion? There are a few approaches to fritters, so review the tips and tricks and read a few recipes before zoning in on a style you like. Whichever flavorings and binder you go with, keep in mind that your shredded zucchini should be rather thick, so use the side of your cheese grater that you'd shred cheddar cheese with.

A simple way to make zucchini fritters is by adding shredded raw zucchini to your favorite corn fritter recipe. It can be mixed right into the batter, and you are free to follow the rest of the recipe as stated. Another method is to use egg and flour as a binder, and season with salt and pepper. Stir in your zucchini shreds and spoon the batter into a hot-oiled pan. For vegans or those on a gluten-free diet, consider making chickpea batter with chickpea flour, water, and seasoning to bind your zucchini together.

Spiralize it

In the 21st century, we're being creative with replacing some favorite carbs with vegetables, and, to be honest, while the classics are good, we love to see such creativity take place. While we saw cauliflower rice coming, one of the more surprising replacements was when zucchini started subbing in for pasta. Who knew with a simple tool like a spiralizer we could create a veggie alternative to pasta and noodles that tasted so good?

Simply use your spiralizer to transform your zucchini into zoodles, and use them raw or cooked. Cooked zoodles will shrink in size significantly, and put out quite a bit of moisture. They are also more tender than pasta. If you enjoy al dente pasta, don't cook your zoodles at all. They will be slightly crunchier, but still tender. For a warm pasta dish, simply add warm sauce to the raw noodles. Use a little extra olive oil if the sauce is not sticking to the zoodles as well as you'd like.

Pair with onions

Summer is a great time to enjoy the fresh bounty from your garden, your neighbor's garden, or even a local farmer's crop. There's nothing like fresh vegetables in the perfect combination to make weeknight cooking a breeze. One of those combinations we wait all year for is the pairing of summer squash and sweet onion. The sweetness of the onion highlights that of the squash, and vice versa. Both are mellow and soft, yet flavorful and buttery.

For those with a green thumb, both are relatively easy to grow, so if you play your cards right come planting season, you could have delectably delicious side dishes all summer long. Don't limit yourself to sides though. This powerful combo tastes great in galettes, pizzas, pasta, and in lasagna. Roast them in the oven, fire up the grill, or toss them in your iron skillet. Accompany with butter or extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper, or spice things up with sage, basil, or oregano.

Bake with Parmesan

When it comes to gluten-free or veggie-centric appetizers, the options can be limiting. Pizza rolls, pigs in a blanket, and cocktail meatballs seem to dominate the scene. But if you're looking for the perfect seasonal-produce-based appetizer that's ready in just minutes, then summer squash has your back.

Simply slice your yellow or green zucchini into quarter-inch or thicker cross sections to create little disks. Toss in a little bit of olive oil, oregano, and black pepper. Space the disks out on a lined baking sheet, and top with grated Parmesan cheese. For a vegetarian option, opt for another sharp, hard, aged cheese that doesn't contain rennet, or use vegan Parmesan. Roast in the oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for about five minutes, or until the cheese begins to brown. Serve with toothpicks or tiny forks so your guests don't have to get their fingers greasy, and enjoy the salty-sweet combination.

Make a casserole

When summer rolls around, we don't always want to crank up the oven, but we will always make an exception for casserole. Bake it once, and enjoy it all week long. Squash makes for the perfect addition to any casserole, and knows how to work a spotlight as the superstar ingredient, as well. The best part is, a fabulous yellow squash casserole recipe isn't all that hard to throw together.

Start with yellow squash, which tends to be slightly sweeter than green zucchini. Use ingredients like cheddar cheese, sour cream, and butter to create a creamy texture. Eggs will help to hold it all together while breadcrumbs create a nice crisp and crunchy topping, adding texture. Garlic, thyme, salt, and, pepper will help round out the flavoring, and because zucchini cooks so easily, it should only take a little more than half an hour total to bake. Serve as soon as it comes out of the oven as a side dish, or as the feature of your plate.

Shave it

Raw summer squash isn't quite as sweet or buttery as the cooked version, but it has a unique texture and flavor of its own. Although not categorized as crunchy, raw zucchini does have a bit of structure to it, especially when the skins come into play. It makes for an incredible mellow addition to any salad, adding both texture and variety when mixed with leafy greens and other vegetables.

Use a peeler to shave your zucchini, or if you have a mandoline, that can work as well. The goal is to get thin shavings from your zucchini, so if you're using a peeler, use it from end to end to get long, thin strips. These strips can be cut up, or coil themselves into the salad. In fact, you can make a lettuce-less salad with simply shaved vegetables like summer squash, carrots, beets, and cucumber. Use both green and yellow summer squash for a beautiful aesthetic, and enjoy your salad fresh or chilled, all summer long.

Shred it for baked goods

Who doesn't love a good batch of zucchini bread? It's sweet, chewy, and like carrot cake, we can feel good about eating it because we're at least getting a serving of veggies into our diet while indulging. The key to a successful zucchini bread recipe, especially when you're trying to tone down the vegetable flavoring, is to grate your zucchini extra fine. It will incorporate better into your batter, and be more of a subtle addition.

The truth is, zucchini doesn't have to be restricted to bread when it comes to baked goods. Zucchini adds moisture, so feel free to include it in your cookie and cake recipes as well. While we might not suggest adding it to something as delicate as angel food cake, it can certainly make an appearance in heartier recipes like oatmeal raisin cookies, and chocolate walnut cake. Be sure to account for the extra moisture, and adjust your recipe accordingly.

Bake it into chips

It seems you can buy almost any vegetable in chip form nowadays. Taro chips, beet chips, carrot chips, banana chips, and sweet potato chips are just the tip of the iceberg. So why not crips up a little zucchini for snacking, as well? The best part is, to make your own chips at home, you won't need a deep fryer.

Slice zucchini into ultra-thin disks using a mandoline, and pat them dry to remove any excess moisture. Then, toss gently in oil, salt, and the seasoning of your choosing. Bake on a lined sheet pan in the oven at a low temperature for about two hours. This slow roasting process helps to dehydrate the squash and bake off any excess liquid. If you go to remove the chips from the parchment paper and they are sticking, then they need to continue baking until they lift off effortlessly. Because zucchini are mild in flavor, you can choose any direction you'd like to go in for both seasoning and dipping sauces. Believe us, it's hard to run out of ways to use your summer zucchini harvest because the vegetable is so incredibly versatile, so snack away.

Roll with chess and meat

Summertime comes with cravings for refreshing, light snacks. Gone are the days of heavy comfort foods (at least when it's hot out), and fresh fruit and vegetables are making their reappearances. Instead of reaching for chips or cookies, try a fresh summer rollup, using zucchini to hold it all together.

Use a potato peeler to slice your zucchini from end to end, to produce long, thin, and malleable strips. Smear one side with soft cheese, add fresh herbs, and, if you'd like to, include a thin slice of meat like prosciutto or pastrami. If spreadable cheese isn't your vibe, then opt for a thinly sliced soft cheese like provolone to pair with salami or even turkey. Use salmon, dill, and cream cheese with capers for a seafood version. For a vegetarian version, use cheese along with an olive, or pickled vegetable of your choosing. Once your zucchini is layered with your desired ingredients, roll it up and use a toothpick to keep it all in place. Make a platter of these little delicacies for snacking, appetizing, tea time, or even for a quick and easy gluten-free sandwich alternative. The crunch of the zucchini will hold it all together, and highlight the stuffing beautifully.