Politicians are often criticized for toeing the party line even when they must know their stated position is wrong. I’d like to think I’m above that, but alas: I, too, in my own little world of recipes, can be guilty of it. For starters, I haven’t been fully honest with you about zucchini and summer squash.
My official position on them, one I’ve written about and argued before on Serious Eats, is that they’re watery and mild, and that the best way to make them worthwhile is to bring out their flavor by browning them. It’s not an untrue statement—in the same way that many of the talking points politicians use to dodge the complexity of an issue are not untrue—but it’s not the whole truth, either.
Yes, zucchini and squash take on a deeper, richer, fuller flavor when browned. Despite that, I’ve long enjoyed un-browned, stewed summer squash in the secrecy of my home, out of the questioning eye of the public. I’ve been living a life contrary to how I’ve been telling other people to live theirs, and I’m ready to come clean now.
The recipe here is for stewed summer squash, the way I like it, and it’s so simple that there’s hardly a thing to say about it. I start with a mix of zucchini and yellow squashes, preferably small ones picked during their peak growing season. Small, because squashes are denser, more flavorful, and less seedy when small than when they’re allowed to grow large, and in-season, because that’s when they taste best.
Next, I wash them well, scrubbing the skin carefully with my fingers under running water. This is an important step that a lot of people overlook. Summer squashes have very delicate skins, and they grow on sprawling plants near the ground. It’s very common for grains of sand and grit to get lodged in their skins, and if you don’t wash them carefully, that stuff will end up crunching between your teeth in the most unpleasant way.
I like to keep the squash in fat chunks, about an inch or two in size, though you can cut them however you like, whether that’s diced or sliced. But I think the larger chunks are more fun to eat because they get so juicy inside once cooked.
Then I gently heat some olive oil in a pot, warm a few crushed or sliced cloves of garlic in it, and add the squash, cooking and stirring occasionally until it’s tender throughout. It might brown a little, but it doesn’t have to in order to taste great.
At the very end, I toss in some fresh herbs, like torn basil leaves; drizzle a little fresh olive oil on top; and…that’s it. The result is plump and tender squash that’s bursting with its own juices. The flavor may not be deep and rich, but what it trades in that department, it gains in a bright, clean, and sunny disposition. While I usually eat at least half of a large batch right away, it gets even better after it’s come to room temperature, or—wait for it—chilled in the fridge. It’s delicious. And yes, that’s an official statement.