Into the Kitchen: Squash and Melons
To prepare summer squashes, wash the whole vegetable, trim off the ends and cut into cubes or slices. Serve thin, unpeeled raw slices in salads or with dips. Cook slices over steam for three to five minutes, or saute in olive oil until just tender. Do not overcook. Add butter, lemon juice, herbs or spices and serve hot.
Summer squash doesn't can or freeze well -- it gets too soggy. It's far better to use it fresh, and it will last for several days in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. You can grate and freeze overgrown zucchini , though, for later use in breads and soups, where sogginess isn't an issue.
You always cook winter squashes before eating, either baked in their skins, or peeled and steamed or boiled. Acorn squash is usually cut in half and baked; butternut can be baked or peeled, cubed and steamed. Large Hubbard squash is most manageable if you cut it into sections and bake these in a buttered baking dish at 375° F for about 1 hour.
To steam winter squash, place pieces in a steamer over boiling water until tender, about 30 minutes. Peel the chunks, then mash or puree the flesh in a blender or food mill. Use the cooked squash in recipes or freeze for later use. Pumpkin can be steamed or baked the same way.
Flavor baked winter squash with spices and butter, honey, maple syrup or brown sugar. Serve cooked squash as is, or combine it with other ingredients for pies, soups or cookies.
Other than root cellar storage, freezing is the best way to keep winter squash. Fill freezer containers with cooked, cooled, mashed squash. To freeze uncooked winter squash, peel and cube it, blanch it for 3 minutes, cool, drain, pack it in containers and freeze.
A note on canning: Summer squash, winter squash and pumpkins all require steam pressure canning, and canned squash tends to be mushy and flavorless when reheated. You'll have better luck with freezing and root cellar storage.
This squash adds a new dimension to Italian-style dishes. It grows just like any winter squash and should be harvested fully ripe -- when the rind turns completely yellow.
To cook, wash the squash and bake it whole in the oven (at 350oF) for about an hour -- until the skin is fork tender. If the squash is very large, cut it in half using a sharp knife. Scoop out the seeds and bake or steam only as much as you will use. Refrigerate the rest.
Once cooked, cool the squash slightly. Split whole squashes in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and membranes. Gently lift the meaty squash strands from the shell with a fork, or simply fluff up the strands and serve the squash in the shell with butter, parsley, pepper and salt. Or you can add grated cheese, or substitute the spaghetti-like strands of squash in any recipe that calls for pasta. One medium squash serves four.
You can store ripe spaghetti squash just like winter squash; two plants should yield enough fruit to feed four people all summer.
Summer wouldn't be complete without delicious, fresh melons. Served them for breakfast, lunch or dinner; cut in wedges, with a squeeze of fresh lime and a mint leaf; or topped with scoops of ice cream or sherbet.
To freeze melon balls, slices or cubes, use only firm, ripe fruit. Cut melon in half, remove any seeds and cut out fruit. Don't cut into the rind. You can place melon directly in containers, label, date and freeze. But to keep their shape, place melon pieces on a cookie sheet and freeze overnight (6-12 hours). Transfer frozen fruit to plastic freezer bags or containers. Seal, label and date. Return to freezer and use as needed. Melons, if properly frozen, will keep up to a year in your home freezer.
Photography by Sabin Gratz/National Gardening Association