Those cute little patty-pans and curvy Costata Romanescos might seem adorable harbingers of mellow summer dinners now, but soon, the farmers market, your veggie box, and your home garden will be pumping out more summer squash than your kitchen can handle. Round as a cue ball, scalloped like a Super-8 movie spaceship, ridged and grooved, as dark as an alligator or shiny yellow as an August sun in Oakland, these tender-skinned members of the Cucurbitacaea family--which also includes cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and gourds--will be with us in abundance for the next four or five months, so you might as well get the jump on what to do with them.
First, though, know how to pick them. Look for firm squash with smooth, shiny skin. Smaller is better; not tiny babies, but nothing baseball bat-sized, either. Oversized, flabby squash will be fibrous and bland, and and have too many well-developed seeds. I generally look for squash a little smaller than my forearm.
Summer squash don't look juicy, but don't be fooled: there's a lot of water in there, and you'd better do something about it if you don't want to end up with a wet mess on your plate. Zucchini does very well grilled, inside on a hot grill pan or outside on any type of grill. Cut lengthwise (or crosswise, if you're using round squash) into flat planks, not too thin, and make sure to brush each slice well with olive oil to keep it from drying up into a hard zucchini chip. Plenty of salt and pepper helps, too.
You can also use a mandoline to shave your squash into long, thin ribbons, then toss with lots of lemon juice, a shower of fresh herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil, for a crunchy-tender raw salad. You can make the excellent zucchini tea bread from The Silver Palate Cookbook, or add handfuls of grated zukes to your pancake or muffin batters. You can head overproduction off at the pass by plucking the extra flowers off your plants before they're pollinated. Stuff them with a nubbin of fresh mozzarella or goat cheese, dip them into a light batter and fry them in olive oil into irresistible crispy-molten bites. (For recipes, check out Denise Santoro Lincoln's post Zucchini Happiness: Four Ways.)
But for summer dinners, I like to make these tasty little zucchini fritters. A tomato salsa would, of course, work here, but for the moment, why not take advantage of the too many peaches you'll be buying? Dazzled by the sudden arrival of sweet-perfumed stone fruit (meaning fruit with a single central pit, like peaches, apricots, plums, and nectarines), I can't resist buying a few pieces--or five--at every stand I pass. An aprium here, three pluots there, and by the time I've taken 2 Muni buses and lugged my tote bags up the hills of Bernal to home, what I've got is more like pulp. But delicious pulp, perfect for sweet jam or savory salsa.