It was at least 35 years ago, possibly to the month, that my family discovered fried yellow squash. I don't know why it took so long, or why my mother decided it was the thing to cook, but I remember clearly my first astonished bite of this simple preparation. It was rich and crispy on the outside, sweet and juicy on the inside. Amazing. It became our signature "tease-the-visitors" dish. The entire family would watch while the unsuspecting guest lifted a fork and tasted the golden morsels. "What is this?" they would ask.
There was really nothing to it. Pick the squash, slice it into quarter-inch-thick rounds, dredge them in flour, salt and pepper, fry invegetable oil until crisp and golden brown. Once, when my mother and I were giving a party, we tried to serve fried squash as an appetizer. My mother could hardly keep the stuff in the pan long enough to cook. There was no question of "serving" it; it was gone before it could hit a platter.
That was a simpler time, perhaps, and food issues were less complex. Today's fat-inhibited diners might turn up their noses at something fried and accuse us of trying to clog their arteries. (Though I can't stop you from trying it in the privacy of your own kitchen.)
The yellow, or crookneck, squash, however, is one of the most versatile of vegetables. It can be grilled, baked, stir-fried, sauteed or served raw in salads or with dips; it is especially good with other squashes and with onions. It is low in calories -- a half-cup of raw, sliced squash has only 12 -- and has only 0.2 grams of total fat, no cholesterol, and 1 milligram of sodium. It has significant amounts of carotene (vitamin A) and folic acid, plus calcium, phosphorus, and potassium.
A new cookbook by Courtney Parker, Mississippi-born and -raised cooking instructor, caterer and writer, rescues crookneck squash from the frying pan and puts it in the modern mainstream with her recipe for squash soup. The recipe below is adapted slightly for simplicity. The soup, served with a green salad and crunchy French bread, would make a great light summer supper. Ms. Parker's book is called "How to Eat Like a Southerner and Live to Tell the Tale: Traditional Recipes Made Light" (Clarkson Potter, 1992, $20).
Crookneck squash and red onion soup
1 large sweet potato, baked
2 cups chopped red onion (about 2 medium red onions)
8 cups chopped crookneck squash (about 4 pounds)
5 cups chicken stock (homemade, defatted preferred)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
2/3 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 tablespoon margarine
To bake potato in oven: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake the sweet potato for about an hour or until quite soft. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
To bake potato in microwave: Scrub potato and pierce with fork. Place on microwavable dish and cook 4 to 6 minutes on high, and let stand 5 minutes.
In the meantime, place the red onion, squash and 3 cups of the stock in a large kettle. Bring to a bubbling boil over medium-high heat, then simmer for 25 minutes or until the squash is quite soft.
Scoop out the sweet potato pulp (you should have about 1 1/2 cups) and puree it along with the vegetable mixture in a food processor or blender. (You may have to do it in batches.) Return the mixture to the kettle and stir in the remaining 2 cups of stock. Stir in salt, sugar and coriander. Simmer on low for 10 minutes until heated through, then stir in the yogurt and margarine. Serve immediately.