In sometimes sunny San Francisco, it's difficult at times to distinguish August from February. But when the produce markets suddenly flood with mountains of summer squash, it's clear that the vegetable growing season has reached its zenith. Zucchini, crookneck, and patty pan are the most familiar varieties of summer squash; all are members of the melon and cucumber family, and come in beautiful colors ranging from deep green to ivory, celadon, and bright yellow.
I confess to having regarded summer squash with some disdain in the past, believing that summer squash were rather nutritionally insipid, which upon further investigation turns out to be unfair to this fine fruit. (Botanically speaking, squash, like tomato, is a fruit, not a vegetable). Summer squash contain generous quantities of vitamins C and B, beta carotene, potassium, magnesium, riboflavin, and lots of fiber.
The secret to successful summer squash preparation is in freshness and simplicity. Select small, unblemished, fresh looking squash, and plan to use them within a few days of purchase. Handle gently to prevent damaging the delicate thin skin, and store in the fridge in a loosely closed plastic bag. The subtle flavor of squash is best brought out by the most simple recipes using only a few quality ingredients- olive oil, a bit of onion, some ripe tomatoes and perhaps a few fresh basil leaves.
With a dish of fragrant summer squash in hand, it's possible to experience an authentic summer moment even in the chilly city by the bay. (Recipe to follow).
Linguistic note: "Zucca" is the Italian for squash; zucchini means "little squash".