Crookneck yellow squash. Try it, you’ll like it. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Because they are botanical cousins, crookneck yellow squash and zucchini — both are summer squash and in the cucurbit family —can be used interchangeably in most sweet and savory dishes. So why, then, does the latter get all the summer lovin’?

Zucchini bread, zucchini fries, zucchini boats, zucchini lasagna and zoodles are just a few examples that prove my point. Reasonably priced and local, zucchini has for so long monopolized the summer squash mindset, that seed companies now offer multiple, yellow-skinned zucchini varieties with monikers like Burbee’s Butterstick and Yellowfin and Golden Glory from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. To me, it seems like overkill when we’ve already got the delicious yellow crookneck on offer.

As a cook, I understand the draw of the sleek, uniformly cylindrical fruit of the zucchini vine. That shape means you can easily cut them into uniform pieces that cook evenly whether you’re grilling them, sautéing them, baking them, or making them into noodles for a no-cook meal on a sultry evening.

But like celebrated vegetarian chef and cookbook author Deborah Madison, I seek out the bright yellow crookneck squashes (as well as more modern varieties that have pale necks and soft green bottoms) because they have a lovely flavor.

“Crookneck has a curved neck and is exceptional for its flavor,” Madison writes in her book “Vegetable Literacy.” Picked at their peak (that is, plucked from their vines when they are about six inches long), these yellow soft-skinned (sometimes bumpy) summer squashes have a buttery flavor with nuances of black pepper and nuts. Like other summer squash, if crooknecks are left too long on the vine, their tender seeds get bigger and woody, their flesh diminishes in flavor, and their skin gets tougher.

The ingredients that pair best with the crookneck, according to “The Vegetarian Flavor Bible” by Karen Page are fresh basil, mint, oregano, parsley, almost any allium (garlic, onions, shallots, scallions and garlic scapes), parmesan and goat cheeses, and chili peppers, from fresh jalapeños to dried red pepper flakes.


Cut off the ends of the squash, then cut it in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The best way to cut the crookneck is to first trim the top and tail ends. Then cut the squash lengthwise in half. I scoop even the tenderest of seeds out of the belled bottom of the squash so that when I slice them I get both half-moon and crescent moon shapes for a little variety in the dish.

You can certainly spiralize crookneck squash into noodles, cut them lengthwise to layer into lasagna, and grate them into any zucchini bread recipes you favor, but Madison, Page and I agree that they are best when fashioned into batons, kept raw, and served as part of a crudité platter; cut in half, they are great drizzled with olive oil and grilled; or, thinly sliced, sauteed quickly (no more than 5-6 minutes) in a butter and olive oil mixture. Since these tender young squashes are mostly water, Madison suggests salting them like you would eggplant for baked dishes (salt 1/4-inch-thick slices liberally, let the liquid drain in a colander for 15-20 minutes, rinse off the salt and dry before proceeding with the recipe) to help draw out the liquid and concentrate the flavor.

I encourage you to tap a yellow crookneck squash as much as you do zucchini for the remainder of the summer. After all, variety is the spice of life and a basic tenet when boosting the biodiversity of your local food system.

Yellow Summer Squash, Lemon and Fresh Herb Pasta. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Yellow Summer Squash, Lemon, and Fresh Herb Pasta

This dish, adapted from a zucchini pasta recipe from Bon Appetit magazine, comes together in less than 20 minutes. Leftovers heat up like a charm if you warm them up with a tad more cream.

Serves 4


Kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, peeled and sliced
6 large garlic cloves, peeled
½ teaspoon crushed Aleppo red pepper flakes
1 ½ pounds yellow crookneck squash (3-4), thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
1-pound long pasta like bucatini, fettucine, linguine, or spaghetti
3/4 cup light or heavy cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Place a large pot of heavily salted water over high heat.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallot, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until tender and fragrant but not browned at all, 3-4 minutes. Add sliced squash and 1 teaspoon kosher salt to the skillet. Stir to coat the squash vegetables in oil. Season generously with black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender, 5-6 minutes.

Drop pasta into boiling pot of water and cook until al dente. Dip a measuring cup into the water to get about 1 ½ cups pasta water.

Using tongs, transfer pasta into the skillet with the sauteed squash. Reduce heat to medium-low, add ½ cup pasta water and cream, and stir to combine. Add cheese and another ½ cup pasta water, and cook, stirring vigorously until a creamy sauce coats the pasta. This should take 2-3 minutes. Add the last ½ cup pasta water if the sauce gets a little too tight.

Remove the skillet from the heat and stir lemon zest and 2 tablespoons juice. Taste and season with salt and black pepper and more lemon juice, to taste. Stir in most of the herbs.

Serve pasta topped with more grated Parmesan and remaining herbs.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the former editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at:

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