The most popular summer squash in the United States is the familiar and prolific green zucchini—entire cookbooks have been devoted to it. But it is only one among several common types of summer squash, which vary mainly in shape and color. All are similar enough in flavor and texture to be interchangeable in recipes. Here are some types of summer squash you can find in stores or at farmers’ markets.
- Baby acorn squash: This is the familiar winter squash, it’s picked young, when the whole vegetable is edible, skin and all.
- Chayote squash: Although best known in the South and Southwest, chayote (chah-YOH-teh) is becoming increasingly popular throughout the country. This pale- to dark-green, pear-shaped summer squash is also called mirliton, vegetable pear, and christophene. Unlike other summer squash, it has a large central seed and a fairly thick, deeply ridged skin. It also requires a longer cooking time. Mexican cooks savor the central seed, which has faint almond overtones.
- Cucuzza squash (bottle gourd): This mild-flavored Italian squash has pale green skin and white flesh. Though it can grow up to 3 feet long, it is usually harvested at shorter lengths, when it has the shape of a bowling pin.
- Globe squash: These round squash look like zucchini molded into a round shape.
- Golden zucchini: About the same size and shape as regular zucchini, this variety has a deep yellow skin and a dark green stem. Their flavor is slightly sweeter than that of green zucchini.
- Pattypan (cymling, scallop squash): This greenish-white, disk-shaped squash is convex at both its top and bottom, with a scalloped edge. Its flesh is white and quite succulent. Yellow pattypan squash (such as Sunburst) is similar but more cup-shaped. Pattypan squash are also available as miniatures.
- Scallopini squash: This looks like pattypan squash, but it’s larger and a dark, glossy green.
- Yellow crookneck squash: This squash tapers from a bulbous blossom end to a curved, narrow stem end. Its pale yellow skin has a slightly pebbled texture and its flesh is yellow.
- Yellow straightneck squash: This yellow squash forms a tapering cylinder. Its skin may be pebbled like crookneck’s, or smooth, while the flesh is paler. Along with its crookneck cousin, these are the classic summer squash, which some markets simply label “summer squash.”
- Zucchini: The shape of zucchini—also called courgette—resembles that of a lightly ridged cucumber. The skin is medium to deep green, sometimes with paler flecks or stripes. Zucchini is the most common summer squash, and also comes in a miniature, baby version.
Other squash products
- Squash blossoms: Yellow-orange flowers appear first on the vines that produce squash. These blossoms are not only edible but are considered a delicacy by many. They are also extremely low in calories and are a good source of vitamin C, potassium and the carotenoid beta carotene. Although the flowers of any type of squash can be eaten (their flavor faintly resembles that of squash), the most frequently consumed are zucchini blossoms. Unfortunately, they are usually served battered and deep-fried, which adds fat and calories. More healthful ways of preparing them include: sautéed in a small amount of oil; stuffed with a low-fat filling and then briefly sautéed; or lightly steamed.
- Chinese squash: This is an extremely confusing category for Americans, because many Chinese squash are called melons, even though they are not at all sweet and are cooked like vegetables. The fact that squash and melon are in the same botanical family is responsible for the taxonomic overlap. Here are some types of chinese squash you may find in the markets.
- Bitter melon (bitter cucumber): This Asian squash looks like a warty cucumber, and true to its name, it is bitter (though the younger the melon, the milder its flavor). The yellow seed core is usually removed before cooking.
- Fuzzy melon (mo qua, hairy melon): This fleshy, mild squash tastes like cucumber. When picked young, it’s covered with tiny white bristles (not unlike a cucumber).
- Luffa (dishrag gourd): Native to Southeast Asia, there are two species of the genusLuffawhose unripe fruits are eaten as a vegetable and whose mature fruits’ fibrous “skeletons” are used as scrubbing sponges.One species has ridges running the length of the squash, which is probably what earned it the alternate name of Chinese okra. The other species has smooth skin. The interior of unripe fruit of both species is soft and spongy, has a mild flavor, andcan be used exactly as zucchini is used. Older squash, which can grow to 9 feet, are bitter and have a strong laxative effect.
- Opo squash: This is the Asian version of the Italian cucuzza squash.
- Winter melon: This enormous squash (it grows to 100 pounds) is used not only in China, but also in Japan, India, and Thailand. Outwardly, winter melon resembles a big round watermelon. Winter melon typically weighs about 12 pounds and is often sold in pieces. Its skin is greenish with a whitish blush. The white flesh has the texture of watermelon. Like other summer squash (the winter in its name is a misnomer), winter melon is about 95 percent water and has a very subtle—some would say bland—taste.