Summer is officially here, and so is local summer squash. The blossoms and bold hues of the many available varieties of squash began brightening up area farmers markets in June, and remain a market staple through September.
“Local squash is bursting with flavor, tender and soft — not waxy,” says John Stehling, who owns Early Girl Eatery with his wife, Julie. Shanon Blair, co-owner of the recently opened Green Light Café with her husband Michael, agrees. “When they’re locally grown, they’re picked properly and are a lot sweeter,” she says. Squash that is grown locally is less likely to have that “weird bitter bite” most of us have experienced at least once with trucked-in squash.
Both John and Shanon favor simpler preparations of the summer crop. John likes to grill his in the open air with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, while Shanon prefers hers lightly sautéed with salt, pepper, apple cider vinegar and any fresh herbs she has on hand.
From the simple to the more complex, when it comes to squash, the options are endless. “They’re like blue jeans,” John remarks. “They go with almost everything.”
Sure summer squash makes a great side dish, but imagine it on top of cheeseburgers or salads. Squash casserole makes a great summer treat, as do breads, rice pilaf, omelets, kabobs and soups. Shanon has even tried it pickled, and enjoys using julienned raw squash as a spaghetti substitute.
John suggests trying all the varieties available at tailgate markets — besides zucchini, there are patty pans, zephyrs, and crook necks.
If squash blossoms are considered uncharted territory, he recommends trying this simple, flavorful approach: Just sauté diced carrots, celery, onion, squash and herbs in olive oil, then toss in a little goat cheese and combine to make a stuffing mixture. Gently stuff the blossom and twist the end closed. Dredge the stuffed blossom in egg wash and flour or cornmeal and fry lightly until slightly crisp and brown.
Squash is available right now on the menus of Early Girl and Green Light, as well as other local eateries, as part of Get Local, a program of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (www.asapconnections.org). The program brings together restaurants around the region to highlight a single seasonal ingredient in their own unique dishes. Check out recipes provided for the squash specialties of the restaurateurs mentioned here.
…and blueberries, too
Blueberries recently joined squash and other summer fruits and veggies at markets and have been going fast. Larger quantities will be available at markets this week and over the next couple of months.
Their arrival signals the home stretch of the wait for local tomatoes, which hit the scene in late July. But the wait’s over for green tomatoes; they’re available now at select locations, including the Black Mountain Tailgate Market. You can also find tomato plants at markets, along with other vegetable and herb starts, for your own garden.