Round, straight, crooknecked, striped, or plain, there are plenty of delicate summer squash at the market right now. Here's what to look for and how to prep them.

By Marie Viljoen
July 22, 2021
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Different types of courgettes view from above
Credit: Hendey, Magdalena / Getty Images

Warm weather brings tender summer squashes to market, so pretty and patterned that they are collectible in their own right. The familiar squash scene has been transformed. Move aside, dull green zucchini and ubiquitous yellow squash, the cultivars and heirlooms have arrived. Their variety can leave shoppers and cooks spoiled for choice and perhaps a little intimidated. To help, we are exploring different types of summer squash and linking to our best recipes to help them shine.

To help you gain much-needed clarity about these squashes, we have grouped the fruits (that's right; like tomatoes, these are technically fruits) by shape rather than by quickly-outdated cultivar names. From scalloped pattypans to oval and round through constricted neck squash, here are the tender-skinned varieties we love to meet at the farm stand or store.

What Are Summer Squash?

They're exactly what they sound like: squash that are harvested in summer, before fully mature. They have thin, edible skins. Most summer squash (including zucchini and yellow squash) are cultivars, varieties, and hybrids of the native American squash, Cucurbita pepo. Summer squash do not grow on sprawling or trailing vines like winter squash, but have a more compact, bushier habit (there are exceptions, which we will note).

How Are They Different from Zucchini and Yellow Crookneck Squash?

Many cultivars of summer squash are in fact zucchini, technically, but they hardly resemble them anymore because they have been selected and bred for particular traits, like stripes or shape. The same goes for yellow squash. Plant breeding, as well as the seed-saving of heirloom varieties, have given us a cornucopia of squashes whose forms and colors vary tremendously.

Can One Be Substituted for Another?

Depending on how you want to prepare them, yes. Summer squash are all generally tender, with soft seeds and thin skins.

How Long Can You Keep Them?

Summer squash do not store well long-term, like their thick-skinned winter squash counterparts do, and are best eaten within a few days or kept covered and cool for up to a week, until needed.

How Do You Cook Summer Squash?

It's all about size. Young and small? Steam them, or slice and sauté them, or shave them for salads. Big and mature? Cook gently (think ratatouille, or our vegetable soup with pistou), shred and bake them, or make our favorite stuffed squash. Ahead, the zucchini alternatives to look out for and enjoy at home.

Related: The Amazing Health Benefits of Zucchini and Yellow Squash

Pattypan Squash

With undulating edges and diminutive sizes (when young), petite pattypans are the darlings of the summer squash world. They may be white, yellow, green, or striped. Shave them for bright salads (or carry the salad to the grill) or steam them whole; we love them prepared this way then served in fresh tomato sauce.

Crookneck Squash

The ubiquitous, often watery, yellow squash that has earned a bad reputation for being downright blah is a crookneck. But you may see its curious cousins at market: Yellow top and green bottom? Plump bottom and sinuous top? These are crookneck cultivars, and when eaten young and fresh, they will be firm and flavorful, with none of that bland personality that turned you off in the first place. They deserve more respect. We like them in a warm summer squash salad with balsamic vinaigrette.

Straightneck Squash

Straightneck squash differ from crooknecks in one feature only (you guessed it): the crook.  They don't have it. Many straightnecked squash are yellow, but 'Zephyr' is a beautiful two-toned cultivar whose bulbous green bottom (really the blossom-end) stands out. Slice firm and flavorful straightnecked squash longways and grill  to serve with our walnut pesto, or make a classic, warm-season ratatouille.

Round Squash

Hold onto your hats: Round summer squash are zucchini in rotund disguise! They have all the best zucchini traits, and we recommend slicing off their tops and filling them with morsels of breadcrumbs, mozzarella and lots of fresh herbs, before baking gently. You can also try them quartered and grilled with lamb for summery kebabs.

Cousa-Type Squash

Bred from zucchini, cousa squash may also be called kousa (Arabic for squash). They are chubby, oval squash from the Middle East. One well known cultivar is 'Magda'—and no doubt there will be more. Small cousa squash are appealing when served whole. When petite they are buttery and mild, best steamed, or sliced thinly. Try them tossed with ouzo, tarragon, and cream in our delectable pasta dish. Larger summer squash lend themselves beautifully to stuffing.

There are also summer squash that are not squash, and they're outlined below.

Cucuzza

While the 'gagootz' (in Sicilian-American) is a gourd belonging to the genus Lagenaria, and grows on a vine, it ripens in summer and can be used in the same way as summer squash. It can reach epic proportions but tastes best when slender and tender. Traditionally cooked in spicy vegetable stews, cucuzza can also be shaved and dressed with fruity olive oil and a flurry of parmesan.

Chayote

Pale green chayote is a vining gourd (in the Sechium genus) and is eaten like summer squash, raw or cooked. We love it in a refreshing chilled soup with cilantro and apples.

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