Zucchini and yellow squash — How to choose and store summer squash

It’s zucchini season! And that always means there’s plenty to be had — if not in your garden or a neighbor’s, then at your local market. Despite its abundant availability, I like to sometimes pretend that zucchini is a rare treat. Somehow it makes it even more delectable!

Zucchini — or courgette (the French name I use for it when I’m pretending it’s gourmet) — is a super-versatile veggie. Stir fry it, roast it, or grill it. Bake it into cakes, breads, brownies, or muffins. Use it to make fritters or pizza, burgers or quiche. Or eat it raw, shaved into ribbons for beautiful salads. Have you tried zoodles — the gluten-free substitute for pasta? 

closeup of a zucchini being peeled with a hand peeler

The flavor of zucchini is mild and slightly sweet. Cooking enhances the taste, and the veggie beautifully absorbs spices as well as other flavors (of a sauce or companion veggies, for example).

In honor of the season, I thought we’d learn how to choose the most stellar zucchini and other summer squash at the market and how best to store it so that it lasts. Because really, despite the bounty, you really can’t have too much zucchini! 

But first, let’s iron out some of the names you might be confused about.

What’s the difference between zucchini and summer squash? Zucchini and cucumbers? Zucchini and yellow squash? 

“Summer squash” is used to talk about both zucchini and yellow squash, which are not actually the same produce. They are similarly mild and sweet, and they both have tender, edible skin (unlike winter squash). But yellow squash tends to have a different shape — less straight — than zucchini. Yellow squash may have a fat bottom and a tapered top, or a curved top. It generally has more seeds than zucchini, too.  

And while zucchini and cucumbers look similar (sometimes so similar they’re hard to tell apart), they’re botanically different vegetables. The zuke is a Cucurbita pepe (related to pumpkins and squashes), while the cuke is Cucumis sativus, a relative of melons.

While we’re making distinctions, squash are not actually a vegetable — those seeds mean that it’s technically a fruit! Like tomatoes, though, we cook and eat it more like a vegetable.

Types of zucchini and yellow squash

zucchini flowers blooming on a growing zucchini plant

You can find long, thin summer squash, round summer squash, or squat, fun-shaped summer squash like the pattypan variety. Some are smooth-skinned, some have ridges that make pretty star shapes when cut (gadzukes), and some have beautifully curved necks. Summer squash come all shades of green, bright yellow, cream, white, variegated and striped. 

Here’s a nice rundown of some common types of zucchini and other summer squash you’re likely to come across.

Zucchini flowers truly are a delicacy. You can sometimes find them at farmers’ markets, still attached to the zucchini. Use them in omelets or frittatas, or salads or rice dishes.

Choosing the best summer squash

Zucchini and yellow squash are pretty robust produce, so don’t turn your nose up at any your farmer friend leaves on your porch! But if you’re shopping for the best specimens, choose summer squash that is:

  • Firm
  • Cut- and nick-free
  • Brightly colored, no matter the color
  • Small to medium size for the variety. Large summer squash tend to be watery and less flavorful than smaller ones, and the insides may be pulpy and full of large seeds.

If the stem is still attached, it’ll last longer. And extra points if the zucchini still has tiny hairs on it; that means it’s super fresh!

Storing zucchini and other summer squash

Summer squash isn’t hard to keep fresh, if you just follow a couple of tips to keep it from getting slimy:

zucchini being stored in a produce bag
  • Don’t wash it until you’re ready to use it.
  • Keep it dry (wipe with a clean towel if it’s wet).
  • Store in a paper bag or vegetable bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator— storing  it in plastic may make it slimy. 

When stored correctly, zucchini and yellow squash will keep a week or two before the skin starts to shrivel. 

Squash blossoms are another matter. If you’re lucky enough to have these delicate beauties on hand, use them as soon as you can, because they don’t store well. 

Freezing zucchini and yellow squash

It’s easy to freeze summer squash! Take the time to blanch it first, though, or it may become mushy and brown in the freezer.

To blanch:

  1. Cut the squash into chunks or rounds. 
  2. Dip the pieces in boiling water (do not add salt!) for only 45 to 60 seconds (longer will also turn it to mush!). 
  3. Drain and plunge into ice cold water, to stop the cooking. 
  4. Drain, dry, and place in freezer containers or bags. Label and freeze.

Note: If you want your zucchini pieces to stay separate from each other (rather than freeze into one solid mass), spread them in a single layer on a baking pan, then slide the pan into the freezer. Once the pieces are frozen separately, place them in your freezer bags or containers, label, and freeze. (If you plan to use the zucchini is soups or sauces, you probably won’t mind that it’s one piece of frozen zucchini to start with.)

a white bowl filled with grated zucchini

Frozen zucchini will keep for about three months. It works well in soups and casseroles but doesn’t hold its shape well, so don’t depend on it for dishes like stir fries.

Another option is to freeze freshly grated, raw zucchini. This is a good bet for zucchini that you’ll use in pancakes, fritters, or baked goods. Simply drain off the excess liquid when you defrost the zucchini. 

Okay, surely you have a zucchini or other summer squash recipe to pass along! Tell us your favorite way to use this ubiquitous veggie — er,  fruit. (We’ll share some favorite recipes in this weekend’s newsletter, so stay tuned!)

You might also enjoy:

Tomatoes — How to choose and store tomatoes

Melons — How to choose and store fresh watermelon, cantaloupe, and other melons

Using leftovers — A big step towards reducing food waste at home

Apple storage — How to store apples so they keep for months

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Tip Sheet for Storing Produce

Tip Sheet for Storing Produce