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How to choose and cook with summer squash, eggplant and melons

(Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)
(Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

Sequels: Not just for the Marvel Cinematic Universe! A few weeks ago, I brought you a variety of tips and recipes for making the most of fresh summer tomatoes, corn and peaches. But of course, that only scratches the surface of all the fruits and vegetables we love this time of year, so I’m back with another round.

This time, we’re talking summer squash (zucchini! so much zucchini!), eggplant and melons. Below, find some of our best advice, plus recipes that will help these stars truly shine.

Summer squash

Hot tip: It might not seem obvious given that they are on opposite ends of the texture spectrum, but zucchini and potatoes can sometimes be used in similar ways in recipes. Consider whipping up a batch of Hasselback Zucchini, as suggested by Ellie Krieger, in which the squash is partially sliced, roasted and then stuffed with garlic and cheese. Coins of zucchini also work well in a Spanish egg tortilla where you might otherwise use potatoes. Just make sure you cook the zucchini first to drive off the moisture. More advice:

  • When shopping for summer squash, my colleague Aaron Hutcherson says, look for ones that are heavy for their size, without soft spots or wrinkled skin. “Smaller squash are typically more tender, have fewer seeds and are more flavorful,” he adds.
  • Aaron also says you can grate and freeze fresh squash for up to a year.
  • A tip I picked up from a recent issue of BBC Good Food magazine: When making a dish such as a curry for which you want to pan-fry the pieces until they’re golden and firm, consider scraping the seeds out of the halved squash before slicing. You can add them back into the dish later to retain their flavor and moisture.
  • Marinating isn’t just something to do before cooking. Consider tossing roasted chunks or grilled slices of squash with a punchy dressing while they’re still warm so that the flavors are absorbed.

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

Recipe spotlight: We’ve all had and made our share of heavy, overly sweetened zucchini bread. With my Whole-Wheat Zucchini Bread, I decided to go in a different direction by making a tender, flavorful loaf that employs whole-wheat flour and no refined sugar.

In Grilled Zucchini Roll-Ups With White Beans and Arugula, chargrilled zucchini ribbons are topped with a white bean mash, arugula and basil to form bundles that radiate easy elegance.

Eggplant

Hot tip: If you’re an eggplant skeptic, grilling is a great way to potentially reframe your feelings about these nightshades. The smoky flavor takes over, and the heat transforms the eggplant into silky, even meaty, succulence. (If you don’t have a grill, a broiler works well for indoor cooking, which I do for my eggplant parm casserole and sandwiches.) And with a hot grill, there’s less of a chance you’ll undercook it, which I think is what turns many people off. For an especially popular entry point, puree the eggplant into baba ghanouj. More advice:

  • Like squash (and many kinds of produce in general), eggplant should be heavy for its size. If it’s light, there’s more of a chance that it’s seedy and bitter.
  • Longer Asian varieties are milder in flavor and boast a thinner skin. Their more slender profile also means it’s harder to undercook them.
  • Modern eggplant are bred to have much less of the bitterness they’re still trying to shake their reputation for — you often see salting recommended as a method to counteract it. “Although some people will argue that it affects the texture and oil absorption, I find the difference so marginal that it doesn’t merit the time and effort,” cookbook author Reem Kassis wrote in Voraciously last year.
  • If you’re roasting or grilling whole eggplant, be sure to prick some holes with a fork first. Otherwise, the eggplant may explode. (I know from personal experience!)

Eggplant can be a love-or-hate proposition. Here’s how to treat it right.

Recipe spotlight: I’m not saying that if you don’t like eggplant, you should just mask it with a bunch of other ingredients. But there’s no denying that something like this Grilled Eggplant Salad will bring a whole array of appealing flavors and textures thanks to fried shallots, a coconut milk dressing and heaps of herbs.

The one-pot Pasta With Italian Sausage, Tomatoes and Eggplant pictured above takes a mere 30 minutes to assemble for a speedy and satisfying weeknight dinner.

Melons

Hot tip: Because they grow so close to the ground, melons can be a source of bacterial contamination, which is why you want to take care to wash the outside. Cutting into an unwashed melon can drag harmful bacteria into the flesh. Wash melons under cool running water, ideally scrubbing with a clean vegetable brush. Don’t use soap or bleach. More advice:

  • Despite lore, slapping your watermelon won’t tell you a lot. Instead, look for a yellow, not white or light green, spot on the underside of the melon where it rested on the ground. If the darker green stripes or spots are tinged too yellow, that’s an indication of sunburn. A good watermelon should be gently rounded on the ends with a dull, not overly shiny, skin. It should be heavy for its size.
  • For American cantaloupe, look for a pleasant aroma. Ripe melons will yield but not break to gentle pressure at the blossom end. When the raised netting on the skin is dense and evenly distributed, the melon will have better flavor. Skin color more yellow than green is another sign of maturity. Honeydew doesn’t give off as much aroma, so instead focus on color — creamy, not green — and the pressure test.
  • The more cut the melon gets, the more it deteriorates, so you can always cut half of it and leave the other half intact, tightly wrapped, until you’re ready to use it.
  • Don’t think of melons only in sweet settings. In general, they play well with fresh herbs, hot peppers and salty, umami-rich ingredients (fish sauce, cured meats, etc.). So put watermelon in your gazpacho, make an easy snack or appetizer with cantaloupe and prosciutto, or add honeydew to your tzatziki.

How to pick, prepare and enjoy cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon and other melons

Recipe spotlight: Cantaloupe Salad With Arugula and Crispy Prosciutto takes this classic combo to the next level by crisping the prosciutto in the skillet before it’s combined with a simply dressed pile of greens and thinly sliced melon.

Stay cool with 9 watermelon recipes for salads, drinks, sorbet and more

If you end up with more watermelon than you can eat, turn it into a beverage. Watermelon-Basil Flavored Water is quenching and alcohol-free.

Step-by-step photos: How to cut a watermelon

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