Winter squash is hardy, needing to be scrubbed, peeled and subdued on the grill after months of storage. Summer squash is more delicate. The skin is soft and edible, and it needs to be used within two to three days after you buy it at market. It's squash, just with half the work.
Zucchini, yellow crookneck squash (similar in taste to winter squash) and pattypan squash are all readily available right now. Each is capable of starring on your dinner plate or making a fine side dish.
Choosing summer squash is a bit counterintuitive. You want squash that has a soft rind without blemishes. If the rind is hard, the flesh will be stringy and there will be hard seeds inside because the vegetable has likely been picked too late. Also, bigger isn't better. Find a squash that's about 4 to 6 inches in size.
Summer squash should be stored in a plastic bag inside the fridge's vegetable crisper. Don't wash the squash before storing; moisture will make it rot faster. If you're near the end of that short window, you can chop and freeze summer squash. Cut out the seedy middle section and store it by the cupful, so you'll have it measured for future cooking.
Ratatouille is a great use of zucchini. The medley of simmered vegetables can be eaten hot or cold, which is perfect for the end of summer. Zucchini is best eaten by the slice. Turn it into quick bread, adding blueberries or chocolate chips if you want more sweetness.
Yellow crookneck and pattypan squash are basically ready for the grill. Rinse and chop the tubular vegetable into inch thick slices. Throw on salt and pepper and a splash of olive oil. The slices will take about six to 10 minutes to cook and should be turned over after three or four minutes.
That should give you enough time to caramelize some onions in a pan and grab two thin slices of baguette. Add a fat slice of cheddar to the grill for the last two minutes and you've got a veggie burger. As a side dish, consider making vegetable pancakes, combining thinly grated summer squash with carrots before frying the pancake in oil.
[Image via Flickr: woodleywonderworks]