If you planted squash this spring you probably have so much right now you’ve run out of neighbors to give it to. Summer squash is easy to grow and, if left untended, can get quite large. Most varieties are at their most flavorful and tender when young; typically long yellow squash or green zucchini should be picked when they are six to ten inches long. Patty Pan (a pretty round variety with “ruffled” edges) are best when they are smaller than four inches in diameter.
The important thing to remember when planting squash is that they are prolific growers. If it’s possible to have too much of a good thing then summer squash is a fine example. Give your squash ample room to grow and harvest them early and often.
However, it’s now September and you may be hauling in squash by the armload. If you have too many squash though, don’t panic. They are among the most versatile items in your harvest and stand up well to roasting, grilling and pan searing.
Raw squash can make terrific snack sliced into spears and eaten as is, or dipped into a creamy mixture of Greek yogurt and dill with salt and pepper. A cup of raw squash has only 20 calories and no fat. It’ll also supply you with 35 percent of your recommended daily vitamin C intake.
Nearly every part of most squash can be eaten, up to and including the delicious and fleeting flowers, which can add pizazz to otherwise ordinary dishes (just make certain you shake loose any bugs that might be hiding out inside the flowers). The blooms are quite delicate and should be eaten, ideally, the very same day you pick them. They can be lightly wilted in a nonstick pan with herbs and used to dress a salad, tossed into omelets and eggs, or cooked into buckwheat fritters.
My spin on the traditional ratatouille is another fine way to spice the endless parade of squash dishes that herald the end of summer. Ratatouille is a classic dish from Provence, France that normally consists if slowly simmered eggplant and zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions and fresh herbs — all of which are normally in abundance to any urban farmer this time of year. In this version from my Flavor First cookbook the ingredients are all cooked on the grill for added smoky flavor.
Smoky Ratatouille with Spicy Sausage
2 (4-ounce) links spicy Italian turkey sausage
3 zucchini (yellow or green), cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 medium white or red onion, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rings
1 eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
2 red, yellow, or green bell peppers, roasted (see note, page 000), peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch squares
1 (14.5-ounce) can no-salt-added fire-roasted diced tomatoes (see note)
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Salt and ground black pepper (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, for garnish
Note: You can substitute 1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes (yellow or red) for the fire-roasted tomatoes. Grill fresh tomatoes on skewers, carefully turning, until they are softened and the skins just begin to split.
Remove the sausage meat from the casings. Cook in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until there is no more pink. Drain well, crumble, and set aside.
Prepare a grill and heat to medium-high heat (when the fire is ready you can hold your hand 5 inches above rack for no longer than 3 to 4 seconds). Insert a toothpick horizontally through each onion slice going through all the rings to the center to hold the slices intact. Lightly coat the onion, zucchini, and eggplant with olive oil cooking spray. Grill the vegetables on the grill rack, turning once, until done, about 4 minutes total. (Onions may take longer.)
When cool enough to handle, cut the grilled vegetables into 1/2-inch dice and transfer to a bowl. Add the roasted pepper, tomatoes, lemon zest, basil, and thyme. Stir in the sausage. Season with salt and black pepper, if desired. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the parsley.