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How to use summer squash: a guide to this bountiful, versatile vegetable

Types of summer squash include pattypan (top left, bottom center and top right), green zucchini (bottom left), golden zucchini (bottom left and top left), yellow squash (top left and bottom right), eight ball (top center), chayote (center), squash blossoms (bottom center), zephyr (top right), and cousa (bottom right). (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

While the most common varieties of summer squash can be found year-round — we’re looking at you, green zucchini — the season for which they’re named brings a bounty of less familiar ones. Short and stout pattypan are as cute as buttons; slender, two-toned zephyrs look like their bottoms have been dipped in green dye; pale green chayote could be mistaken for pears at first glance.

Here’s what you need to know about these and other kinds of this summer produce.

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Types of summer squash and their uses

According to Harold McGee in “On Food and Cooking,” “‘Squash’ comes from a Narragansett Indian word meaning ‘a green thing eaten raw.’” While they are great raw, summer squash also can be grilled, sauteed, steamed, fried, roasted — even turned into noodles.

One of the key characteristics of summer squash is that they are entirely edible, including their soft, thin skins and seeds. (And don’t forget the squash blossoms!)

They’re all relatively mild in flavor — with some a little bit sweeter and others perhaps slightly nutty — with variations in firmness, making them fairly interchangeable when it comes to recipes.

Here are a few of the varieties we picked up a farmers markets and grocery stores recently, but this list is just a sampling when it comes to this warm-weather produce.

Green zucchini. This is the standard-bearer when it comes to summer squash. Its neutral flavor profile makes it a chameleon that can fit itself into almost any dish, acting as a canvas for other flavors. If you have some in your garden, you probably are already aware that they can grow to be very (VERY!) large. According to Guinness World Records, the longest zucchini clocked in at a whopping 8 feet 3.3 inches! That’s a whole lot of zucchini bread.

Golden zucchini. Also called yellow zucchini, this squash is slightly sweeter that its green cousin. Like green zucchini, the golden variety also boasts a relatively straight shape, and each can be used in any recipe that calls for the other.

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Yellow squash. Not to be confused with golden zucchini, these are a much paler yellow with skin that can range from smooth to bumpy and they generally have larger seeds than other varieties. They have a bulbous base that tapers at the other end and fall into either the crookneck or straightneck category, which simply indicates whether the plant curves. (Those in the photo above are straightneck.) Some home cooks prefer straight neck yellow squash because the shape makes them easier to prep.

Pattypan squash. Short and stout with scalloped edges, these squash look like little UFOs. They come in a variety of colors, including yellow, green and creamy white. Pattypan squash are denser than other varieties, meaning they have more of a crunch when raw and can withstand longer cooking times.

Zephyr squash. These beauties are a hybrid between yellow crookneck, delicata and yellow acorn squash. They stand out in a crowd because of their yellow and pale green coloration. Their density is similar to pattypan and they have a shape that isn’t usually as curved as crookneck, making it easier to slice and dice.

Cousa squash. The speckled skin gives it a grayish-green color. Its flesh is a little bit sweeter and more tender than zucchini, and with thinner skin. It is most often found in Middle Eastern cuisines, but can be used in whatever summer squash recipes you like.

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Eight ball zucchini. It’s not hard to see why this squash got its name. Also called round zucchini, these spherical beauties can be used much the same as their elongated brethren. However, their shape make them great for stuffing.

Chayote. Though a different species than the varieties of summer squash listed above, this ingredient originally from Central America is used in the same manner. Also called mirlitons in Louisiana, this squash boasts a smooth, pale-green skin surrounding firm flesh with a single large seed. The denser flesh makes then good for stuffing, grilling, roasting or even pickling.

Selection and storage

Summer squash are mostly water, so they should feel fairly heavy for their size. When ripe they will be firm without soft spots or wrinkled skin (not to be confused with the bumps and grooves that are supposed to exist with certain varieties). And this is one instance when size matters: Smaller squash are typically more tender, have fewer seeds and are more flavorful.

To store, wrap in a plastic or reusable produce bag and you can keep them in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer for about one week. Before consuming, give the squash a gentle scrub under the faucet and you’re good to go. You also can grate and freeze squash in an airtight container for up to a year to take advantage of the peak summer produce all year long.


A previous version of this article misidentified two squash in the top image. The caption has been updated.

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