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My appreciation for most summer products borders on reverence. If I close my eyes, even in the winter months, I can still evoke their more sensual qualities in my mind: the gleaming curves of a tomato, the velvety weight of a peach, the way a perfectly ripe blackberry appears between the teeth, leaving a soft ink stain on the tongue. I had never dreamed of yellow squash.
I’m not sure when I developed the idea that yellow summer squash, with its tender skin and watery flesh, was dull, but that opinion stuck with me for quite a while. At least a few times in June or July I would buy some out of duty to seasonal cooking, only to let them languish in my crisper until their exterior was no longer strained and I had to. hastily serve them. The results, as you can imagine, have never been great. There were way too many sautéed slices that went soft when they hit the plate, way too many “I’m just going to do without!” plays on the ratatouille.
Those who love summer products insist, often with a bit of fanaticism, that it doesn’t take much effort to transform their favorites into something almost transcendent. I often join their annual chorus: Give me slices of lightly salted tomatoes between white bread with a little Duke’s spread. Give me a nectarine that screams to be just eaten over a kitchen sink bowl.
I think I resented the yellow squash a bit because, unlike its seasonal compatriots, it apparently took too long to turn it into fair. . . Something.
But that was the summer when everything changed because it was the summer when nothing seemed easy.
I don’t know if it was the multi-year pandemic, the crushing loss of bodily autonomy, or, as Home and kitchen tool Food contributor Maggie Hennessy once put it, “anger at unfettered capitalism.” . I realized around mid-June, however, that I didn’t quite feel like myself.
For weeks, a thick cloud of humidity hovered in my apartment. No matter how many fans I strategically positioned or how often I fiddled with the windows, the hot air just wouldn’t move. It was a pervasive representation of the stasis I felt all around me.
Friends and acquaintances and people I follow on Instagram apparently weren’t loaded with it. They were busy drinking gorgeous little cocktails, lying on the shore or posting snaps of Italy. (I swear half of America is in Italy right now.)
“Summer should be easy,” I texted a friend.
“You’re exhausted,” she said. “And you’ll be left exhausted because you don’t even know how to take a weekend off.”
She was right, of course. I was exhausted. I’m exhausted. Coming of age at a time when side gigs were a given and restlessness was a virtue, I’m good at telling those I love to give themselves a break, but I often struggle to classify the rest for me as a luxury. I wouldn’t say I dream of a job, but I don’t know how to escape it either.
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My friend shares this problem, and we complained a bit back and forth until our usual evening signature: “Get yourself a nice dinner”. I told him jokingly that I was between trips to the grocery store, but I would give it a try. I started gathering ingredients for a take-out meal: most of a sleeve of bucatini, a single slice of bacon, half an onion, grated parmesan. Pushing the cabbage and kale prep bags aside, I dug through the crisper drawer, and there was my annual purchase of summer squash — two straight-necked yellow ones, still fresh from my last trip to the supermarket.
Looking at the breakdown of ingredients, I thought back to two pasta recipes I loved making: Ali Slagle’s Caramelized Zucchini Pasta and Alison Roman’s Caramelized Shallot Pasta. “If zucchini can caramelize, why not yellow squash, especially if there are onions in the pan to help it along the way?”
I put a few glasses of olive oil and a knob of butter in a frying pan. While it was melting, I shredded the squash and coarsely chopped the onions. Then I let the mixture cook over low heat, pushing it with the back of a wooden spoon around the pan every 10 minutes or so. In 20 minutes, the squash had transformed. It’s supple yellow and white shreds had taken on a honey color, and their vegetal softness had deepened considerably.
yellow summer squash
Within 40 minutes, I was eating the caramelized squash from the pan with my spoon.
Once I removed the squash from the heat, I boiled the pasta and added it to the pan as well (after draining it). A mixture of pasta water and whole milk yogurt allowed the squash to coat the bucatini like a velvety sauce. I topped it with a little crispy bacon, chives, and parmesan cheese. Let me tell you something: that bowl of pasta was just as transcendent as a seasonal tomato sandwich or a sink nectarine.
The irony is not lost on me that to get there, the squash just needed to be fed a little. It took a little time and patience. In the end, he had to stay relatively quiet, except for the occasional fuss.
I sent my friend a photo of the dish with the caption, “Maybe I just need to treat myself like a good summer squash.” Even if it’s not the solution, it’s a start.
on fresh summer produce