From the Harvest: Squash that attitude

From the Harvest: Squash that attitude
Squash and zucchini cut for a recipe in which the veggies play the role of pasta. (John Houser III, Special to The Baltimore Sun)

Summer squashes have to be the most overlooked (and overcooked) vegetables of the summer growing season. They're everywhere, but they're not as widely anticipated as asparagus, as beloved as peas or as coveted as strawberries. Available in all farmers' markets from early June until late September, squash are forced into second-class roles as over-sauteed side dishes or even third- and fourth-class bit parts in the dreaded "vegetable medley."

Enough is enough. Summer squashes need to be heard, and the main players for this team are yellow squash and zucchini. Both are excellent by themselves, but when teamed up, they create nearly unlimited culinary possibilities.

When cooking squash for myself, I like to keep it simple," says Ted Stelzenmuller, chef at two restaurants in Canton: Jack's Bistro and the new Of Love and Regret (a collaboration with Brian Strumke from Stillwater Artisanal Ales). "My personal favorite is to have it grilled — thick pieces — with good Parmesan, salt and pepper, and then finished with a little bit of infused olive oil."

The thick grilled planks of squash are topped with shaved Parmesan, then put under a broiler to brown the cheese, hit with salt and pepper and then anointed with an oil infused with garlic, onion, jalapeno and lemon peel that Stelzenmuller makes at his restaurants. "The reason I cut them so thick is so they can hold that grilled flavor without turning into mush in the process," says Stelzenmuller, who doesn't cook at home because he is always working but does take the time to make food for himself at his restaurants.

Rich Hoffman, Food Service Director at Genesis Health Care continues on the theme of simplicity with squash. Dishes such as "yellow squash soup with cheddar and cilantro and roasted stuffed yellow squash with tomato, mozzarella, and fresh basil drizzled with extra virgin olive oil" are all "some recipes that my wife and I make."

The recipes included here are all easy to make at home. Some may require a little more knife work, but that will just make you a better cook. Pattypan, crooknecks and even the baseball-shaped squashes are all interchangeable in the recipes, but for our purposes, I'm sticking with the team leaders.

Ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms

Squash blossoms are an item that you can find only at the farmers' market (or in the garden). Make sure that they are a fresh and vibrant yellow/orange color and look as if they were just picked (chances are they were). Wilted leaves mean they are old, and you should pass. Use the flowers the day you buy them or, at the most, the day after. The combination of the flavorful filling with the delicate blossom pays off when you eat the root end, and the sweet squash flavor really shows its strength. This dish goes great with a baseball game and a beer.

Makes: 4 servings

1 cup ricotta

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

zest of 1 lemon or lime

1/4 cup cilantro or parsley finely minced

1/4 cup mint minced

2 mild red chilies

12 squash blossoms

Plastic sandwich bag

Vegetable oil for frying

1 egg

1 cup beer (I used Stillwater Artisanal Ales "Table Beer") or club soda

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Chop sticks or a wooden spoon

Fresh lemon juice

In a bowl, mix the first seven ingredients. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes or while you set up the batter. To set up batter, mix together the egg and beer or club soda and sift the flour and baking powder into the mix. Stir until thick (it's OK if the mixture's lumpy, just make sure it's combined). Stuff cheese mixture into the sandwich bag and cut a small corner off to use it as a piping bag.

Open the squash blossoms with your finger and then using the sandwich bag, pipe the cheese mixture into the blossom. Twist the tip of the blossom closed and set aside. Do this with the remaining blossoms.

In a pot, pour in the vegetable oil two inches deep. Over medium high heat, bring the oil to 375 degrees and add as many blossoms as will fit without overcrowding (about 4-6). Fry until golden brown on each side (about 5 minutes per side) turning with the chopsticks or spoon. Transfer to a sheet pan with a rack insert or a pile of paper towels. Finish frying the rest of the blossoms and serve immediately topped with a splash of lemon juice.

Tip: If you would like a lighter, more Japanese tempura-style crust, thin the batter out with another 1/2 cup of beer or club soda.

Yellow squash and zucchini 'pasta' in cherry tomato sauce

The "pasta" in this dish is made up of zucchini and squash cut into penne pasta shapes. To do this, cut medium to large squash or zucchini in half lengthwise and then cut the halves in half. Do this one more time to create eight long slivers of vegetable (about 1/2 inch wide). Using your knife on a 45-degree angle, cut out the seedy part of the vegetable and lay the sliver flat. Point the top of the vegetable to a 10 o'clock position and with your knife in an 11 o'clock position, cut 2-inch lengths. This seems complicated, but once you get the hang of if, this knife cut will come in handy with other vegetables such as carrots, potatoes or bell peppers.

Makes: 4-6 servings

1 pound yellow squash cut into 2-inch "noodles"

1 pound zucchini cut into 2-inch "noodles"

20 ounces cherry tomatoes (2 containers)

1 medium onion, diced

8 cloves garlic, minced

3 anchovies

1 tablespoon thyme leaves

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon plus 1 large pinch of kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 cup dry white wine


thyme flowers for garnish

In a large pan heated over medium heat, add 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and heat to a shimmer. Add onions, garlic and a large pinch of salt to the pan and saute for 5 minutes. Add the anchovies and stir it into the onion mixture until they disintegrate. Transfer onion mixture to a heat-proof bowl. To the still-hot pan add 1 teaspoon of olive oil and the tomatoes. Shake the pan every minute or so to evenly heat the tomatoes until they start to burst (about 5-6 minutes). Once most of the tomatoes have burst, add the wine, red pepper flakes and thyme and cover the pan. Let the tomatoes cook for 10 minutes, then uncover the pan. Cook the tomatoes for another 5 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by half. Transfer tomatoes to the bowl containing the onion mixture. Add the tablespoon of olive oil to the hot pan and wait until it starts to shimmer. Add the squash and zucchini and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the pan and saute, constantly stirring, until the squash are heated through but not limp. Turn off the heat, add the tomato/onion mixture and the parsley to the pan and toss everything together. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and serve it immediately. Garnish with thyme flowers if available.

Tip: Puree the tomato/onion mixture for saucier "pasta."

Zucchini and yellow squash cakes with cilantro & mint garlicky yogurt sauce

This recipe can be made two ways: The first has a more Italian feel with parsley and lemon, while the other flirts with Mexican or Southeast Asian flavors with lime and cilantro. Whichever style you choose to make, the yogurt dipping sauce takes the dish into the realms of Greece and India. It's impressive how much you can travel the world in one plate of food, no?

Makes: 12 cakes

1 cup yogurt

1/4 cup mint

1/2 cup cilantro

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 small clove of garlic, microplaned or mashed into a paste

1 pound squash, grated

1 pound zucchini, grated

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg

2 egg whites

1/3 cup flour

1 cup of grated Parmesan

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground fresh nutmeg

1/4 cup parsley

1/4 cup mint

1 tablespoon butter

1 ounce olive oil

To make the yogurt sauce, combine the first five ingredients. Let mixture sit for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the squash and the zucchini in a colander and toss with the salt. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes, tossing and squeezing every 10 minutes to extract the excess water from the mixture. After 30 minutes, transfer the squash mixture to a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out the rest of the excess water. Transfer to a large bowl and add the next eight ingredients. Make the cakes using a 1/4 cup to measure and shape the cakes. Heat a pan over medium heat. In a large pan, add the butter and olive oil. Once the butter and oil are melted together, add the cakes (don't overcrowd the pan) and cook each side for five minutes or until crispy dark brown. The cakes will stick, but if you give them 3 minutes before you try to move them, they will release from the pan easily with a little scraping from a spatula. Once browned on both sides, transfer to a sheet pan with a wire rack insert and cook the next batch. Once the cakes are all cooled, serve immediately with the yogurt sauce.

Tip: Capture the juice that comes out of the squash mixture by placing a bowl under the colander (you should have about 11/2 cups). Add 9 ounces of your best gin along with the juice of 1 lime and stir until combined. Serve over ice and enjoy a well deserved after-cooking cocktail. If you want it a little sweet, add simple syrup to taste.