Summer Squash--In Winter?


Photo by Anastatia Curley/FlickrCC

To try Anastatia's summer squash hash with yogurt sauce, click here.

One of the odd things about my winter CSA share is that it often contains things like yellow summer squash, tomatoes, or eggplants. I say "odd" because I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and there is half a foot of snow on the ground and no way anyone is growing these vegetables at a farm nearby.

As I mentioned in my first CSA post, though, the vegetables in my CSA share don't come from one local farm but from a few different farms up and down the east coast: the organically grown eggplants and summer squash are both from Somerset Farms, in Florida. The goal behind this approach is to create a regional foodshed, which offers wider variety but still hews to the seasons of the East Coast, and has a lower environmental impact than importing conventional produce from farther afield.

And so my squash sat in my refrigerator for almost a week, reproaching me every time I opened the crisper drawer.

Now, I love that this wide-ranging approach means I get organic citrus from Florida every week, but I'm less ecstatic about the squash. As Maggie said a few weeks ago while we were unpacking our box, "I'm down with the whole 'East Coast foodshed' thing and all, but I just can't get used to eating tomatoes in December." Neither can I. I'm not sure if it's that I've been trying to eat seasonally for long enough that it's become second nature, or if it's that one's body naturally craves things like hearty root vegetables when it's cold out, but the idea of eating a fresh tomato in the middle of January just seems all wrong. I'd be as likely to wear a bikini to a business meeting.

Beyond the incongruity of eating summer vegetables in wintry New England, though, lies the real problem: I just don't like summer squash. I don't even eat it during the summer. I enjoy zucchini, but I have a childish aversion to yellow crookneck squash—when I try to describe its texture, the only word I can come up with is "yucky."

And so my squash sat in my refrigerator for almost a week, reproaching me every time I opened the crisper drawer. I knew I had to eat it. Or at least, I knew I really ought to eat it. But instead of inspiring culinary creativity, this only made me grumpy.

I thought a better chef than I might help, so I consulted my shelf of cookbooks, to no avail: many of them contained no reference to summer squash whatsoever. (While frustrating, this also makes me feel vaguely vindicated in my dislike of the vegetable.) The ones that did suggested grilling it or sautéing it with herbs. To which I say, well, I don't need a cookbook to come up with that cooking technique.

Before declaring defeat and composting the squash, however, I looked to the woman I should have consulted first: Deborah Madison. Her book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is an exhaustive and beautiful resource, worth purchasing even if you're not a vegetarian. The vegetable chapters explain how to recognize different varieties, what they will taste like, when to buy them, how to store them, and of course how to cook them. In her section on summer squashes, she writes lovingly of the yellow vegetable's sweet taste—but before I began to doubt my idol's taste and judgment, I came across her recipe for zucchini with yogurt sauce. This, I knew, was the solution to my summer squash problem.

I realized that summer squash seemed "yucky" because I found its single-note sweetness monotonous, and most of the recipes I'd found didn't address that issue: they just made summer squash taste more like summer squash. This recipe, though, topped the vegetable with a sauce of plain yogurt, sour cream, fresh dill, and cayenne. The heat of the cayenne and the tang of the yogurt would balance the sweetness of the squash.

I substituted feta cheese for the sour cream, because I like it better and because I thought its saltiness and crumbliness would add layers of flavor and texture. I mixed up the sauce and let it sit, then grated and sautéed the squash to make a sort of hash. I piled this on a plate and tossed it with the yogurt sauce, then sat down to lunch.

Now I must first say: the dish is not an attractive one. In fact, it was so unphotogenic that I couldn't bear to photograph it. The yellow of the squash and the reddish color of the yogurt sauce just didn't make for a gorgeous combination, which may have been one of the reasons Deborah Madison suggests serving the sauce over zucchini matchsticks rather than yellow hash. As a result, I suggest using zucchini if you are serving the dish to a crowd.

But: it was delicious! The sweetness of the squash rounded out the sharp edges of the yogurt and feta sauce, and the occasional hit of raw garlic added a certain excitement. It would have been even better alongside some kind of grilled chicken, but I didn't have any on hand. So I savored my bowl of squash, enjoying my lunch, my discovery of this wonderful yogurt sauce, and my victory over summer squash.