Summer squash low in calories, high in fiber

Colorful summer squash are in season now.
Colorful summer squash are in season now. Bigstock

Nutrition: Summer squash is mostly fiber and water; that makes it a natural for low-fat meal-making. For example, zucchini is typically 95 percent water. One cup of raw squash contains 18 to 23 calories, depending on the variety. Summer squash are high in vitamin C; one serving offers about 35 percent of the adult recommended daily allowance. This fruit (yes, squash is technically fruit) also is a very good source of vitamin K, vitamin B6, riboflavin, folate, magnesium, potassium and manganese.

Selection: Look for firm, nicely shaped squash with taut, unblemished skin. Avoid any with nicks, bruises or soft spots. One pound (usually three to four immature squash) is enough for three servings.

Storage: Refrigerate summer squash in a loose plastic bag. Use as soon as possible. Squash starts to lose its freshness after three to four days. If exposed to frost or too much cold in the refrigerator, the skin may develop pits.

Freeze: Summer squash freezes well for later use. To freeze, cut into rounds and plunge into boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain. Transfer to freezer containers or zip-locked freezer bags. Squash may also be grated and frozen for use in recipes (such as zucchini bread). Or puree cooked summer squash and freeze in 1-cup amounts for use in casseroles or other dishes.

Preparation: Just before use, wash squash gently under cool water. Cut off stem and blossom ends. Most summer squash needs no peeling.

Winter vs. summer: All squash are grown during summer. So what makes some squash “summer” and others “winter”? The difference is their shelf life. Summer squash are eaten young when their seeds are immature and their skins still thin. That makes them very perishable, lasting only a few days after harvest. Winter squash, such as acorn and butternut, are allowed to mature on the vine, developing a thick skin and mature seeds. That thick skin forms a protective rind that allows winter squash to stay fresh without refrigeration many weeks after harvest.

Know your squash: With growing interest in heirloom vegetables and farmers markets, the varieties of available summer squash have expanded greatly in recent years. Which squash is which? Here’s a quick guide:

▪ Zucchini: Traditionally long and dark green with white flesh, this familiar squash originally was referred to as “Italian” or “marrow” (especially in Europe). Now, zucchini comes in colorful hybrids including golden and striped varieties. Round “Eight Ball” or “Roly Poly” hybrids look like glossy, dark green billiard balls.

▪  Straightneck: This yellow squash features light cream color flesh and good flavor. It looks like a golden zucchini but with bumpy skin.

▪  Crookneck: This traditional summer squash has a distinctive swan-like neck and bright yellow color. It’s flavorful and tastes good mashed.

▪  Pattypan: This old-time favorite has a distinctive shape with scalloped edges. With pale-green skin and flesh, it has a mild flavor.

▪  Globe: These hybrids have a baseball-like round shape, perfect for stuffing. They come in several colors from pale yellow to dark green, with or without stripes.

– Debbie Arrington