Summer Squash

Summer squash are thin-skinned and bruise easily. Usually, the smaller ones are sweeter and tenderer. Summer squash are moister—they contain more water—than winter squash. Summer squash are good for about a week in the refrigerator before they begin to soften and wrinkle.

Being Italian, I am especially fond of zucchini and my wife Mary Ann Esposito can create many interesting recipes such as she does for her television cooking series Ciao Italia. Its mild flavor is versatile; it can be eaten raw, grilled, fried, sautéed, baked, tossed in salads, in pasta dishes, on sandwiches, or even baked into bread and cake. The flowering tip of the zucchini is a gourmet delicacy. It is generally served as a side dish, sautéed or deep-fried.

Besides the elongated variety typically found in the supermarket, there are many varieties to choose from. For the typical zucchini I am planting some Zucchini Romanesco. It has medium grey/green fruit with very prominent ribs and an outstanding nutty taste. In addition, I also like the round type, such as Zucchini Tondo Nizza, light green rather than dark green. Very thin skin so handle carefully. Pick when no larger than a baseball or softball, before the skin begins to darken up. Grill, stuff, fry, use in parmigiana instead of eggplant.

Winter Squash

Winter squash, on the other hand, have hard, thick rinds. They are so hardy that you may find yourself needing a hammer to tap the knife’s handle when trying to cut one in half. This thick skin puts longevity on their side: You can keep winter squash fresh in cool, dark places for one to three months. Winter squash are drier and contain less moisture than summer squash.

Every year I put in two or three different varieties. This year I am planting Winter Squash Padana. It is pumpkin shaped and very beautiful with alternating vertical grey/green and orange ribs. I really like this squash not only because it is beautiful but also it is so tender that you can eat it with a spoon. You can cook it in the oven at 325 degrees F. and do not need to add any sugar, maple syrup or butter. Another favorite I am planting is Marina di Chioggia. It is an organic seed and has grey/green knobby skin with a sweet orange flesh.



You plant summer and winter squash the same way. They are both heavy nutrient feeders; so I heap the soil up in a small hill about 5 or 6 inches high and 12 inches wide. Using a trowel and your hand, create a hole in the middle of the mound. The secret is to fill the hole with your compost or compost style dehydrated manure, which is high in nutrients and organic matter that your plants love to grow on. You can also mix in a small amount of time-release fertilizer if you wish to, but the compost/manure is best if you have a choice.

Planting from Seeds: Put a good couple of handfuls in the hole and then cover it with the soil from the mound so that there are a few inches on top of the manure. Next plant the seeds by pushing them under the surface about an inch, to your first knuckle, and then cover with dirt. I plant about 4 or 5 seeds to assure that I will get the two healthy plants that you want to germinate. Immediately water and be sure to keep moist for the first week to 10 days.

Transplanting Plants:  Using the exact same mounds as for the seeds, you take your plants and carefully remove the lower leaves and place the plant in a whole that you create in the center of the mound. Remember that squashes and melons do not like to have their roots disturbed so be careful when you transplant them. They usually are in a peat pot so they will hold together pretty well. After planting to about the top of the peat ball, press the soil around the plant down firmly. You want to be sure that the roots make immediate contact with the soil around it. Immediately water and be sure to keep moist for the first week or so.
Squash (Zucca in Italian) is one of my favorite vegetables to grow in the garden for several reasons. First, there are two distinct varieties – summer and winter. The summer varieties, such as zucchini and yellow squash, can be enjoyed fresh off the plant through September. Just a few plants will provide you and your family with a regular and abundant harvest.

In addition to the summer squashes, you can grow several varieties of winter squash that will preserve and stay tasty well into the winter. It is a treat to be able to grow plants like winter squash and harvest and then eat months later - and they are still delicious.
Planting Squash (Zucca)
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