The sun is setting on summer and autumn’s embrace beckons.
By TYLER FOX
Though it seems like just yesterday we were filled with fervor at the first signs of summer, the time has come to put another season to rest.
Labor Day approaches, serving as a tidy summer bookend to Memorial Day, and we begin the process of fading out the summer fun of barbecues and swimming pools for the sounds of football and the slow but sure change in colors around us.
Some summer staples will endure a while longer, stretching into fall at a leisurely pace as a way of comforting our shift in seasons. Luckily we won’t have to put away the produce with our white clothes and brief, Royal blue pennant fever.
Tomatoes are still thriving, as are other vegetable varieties of the sunny season’s vibrant color wheel. Watermelon, peppers, squash and more will all blur the lines of season on tables and taste buds.
Squash in particular plays an interesting character in the drama of summer into autumn as it wears many masks with its variations. We’ve touched on zucchini’s versatility and a vegetarian “nose to tail” approach to using every part of the squash on pizza but those are only a few options for maximizing the gifts of the ubiquitous summer squash.
The pattypan squash is one of my favorites of this time of year as it brings so much to the table in terms of color, flavor and adaptability to different recipes. You might recognize it at your farmers market as the one that bears passing resemblance to other squash family members while maintaining a highly distinctive appearance all its own.
The pattypan generally ranges in color from a soft, pale light green to bright yellow to darker greens flecked with streaks of yellow hues. It has a flattened, rounded shape with fluted grooves that give it a look suggesting a pumpkin raised in a bundt cake pan.
Like other summer squash, it has a thin, delicate skin that is completely edible and decidedly delicious. The exterior and flesh are moist like its cousin the zucchini, but are firmer and hold the vegetable’s form much better and therefore are ideal for more rigorous cooking applications like grilling, roasting and even stuffing.
It is this junction of form and function that makes the pattypan truly unique. This recipe uses the wider body and ample flesh of the squash to be both supporting player and star of the dish. By roasting and hollowing out the center, the squash becomes a vessel for a flavorful stuffing while also showcasing the sweet, hearty flesh of the vegetable.
The stuffing can be made from almost anything you choose, but I like to make a rich, healthy and utterly satisfying whole grain filling that can serve as a vegan main course or side dish if desired.
Too often I find vegan or vegetarian dishes to be not much more than glorified vegetable medleys or pastas made larger to act as an entrée, but without the thought, balance and composition one hungers for in a satisfying meal.
This dish satiates that longing for a savory, meaty experience with healthy, nutrient and protein dense ingredients like lentils, whole grains and nuts while also giving the humble squash a resonating voice in the swan song of summer.
As food is sensual in all respects of the word, I believe in employing all of the senses to some effect in cooking. The pattypan squash is perfect to this end with its unique visual qualities.
I have done many versions of stuffed squash but this one in particular is a tongue-in-cheek visual nod to the state of Kansas and the state’s symbol of the sunflower, which can be seen towering above late summer gardens and fields across the land.
The black lentils, sunflower seeds and quinoa stuffing give a visual texture that calls to mind the eye of the flower, while the percolating round edges of the pattypan playfully mimic the yellow wispy petals of the sunflower.
Summer is dwindling to its inevitable close but the locally grown spoils of the season have delicious life yet left in them. As you bid goodbye to summer, take a moment and see if you can hear faint, far away chants of “Rock Chalk Summer Squash” by enjoying a healthy, succulent nod to the sunflower state.
Summer Squash “Sunflowers”
This vegan recipe utilizes the currently abundant summer pattypan squash as a beautiful and healthy vegan main dish or satisfying side dish. The colorful skin and vibrant color of the squash flesh make for a pleasant visual contrast to the quinoa and black lentil filling, creating the sunflower appearance of the dish. It is a versatile dish that can be served hot or cold, so feel free to play around a bit, add other chopped vegetables or greens to the quinoa and lentil filling or even double the recipe for a larger end of summer party.
Makes 6 servings
1 cup cooked Quinoa
1 cup cooked black or French Puy lentils
1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinaigrette
3 medium pattypan summer squashes, halved
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons sea salt plus salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put quinoa, lentils, sunflower seeds and thyme leaves in mixing bowl and mix. Drizzle vinaigrette over with 1 teaspoon salt and mix to incorporate. Set aside. Drizzle olive oil on squash flesh and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, then place cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Put in oven and bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until squash is lightly browned and tender but still somewhat firm. Remove from oven.
When cool enough to handle, use a teaspoon to scoop out the center of squash, careful not to go through bottom, creating a 1-1/2 to 2-inch wide hole. Take a heaping tablespoon of filling and spoon into hole, smoothing out and creating a neat mound for the center of the “sunflower.” Squash can be served immediately or heated in 400 oven for 5 minutes to reheat before serving.
Tyler Fox, personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local/farm to table foods.