Summer and winter squash give you lots of choices in cooking methods, from quick sauteing in a skillet to roasting in a hot oven, and many methods in between. Make your choice based on what else you're cooking on the stovetop or grill or what you plan to make with the cooked vegetables. For most cooking methods, toss either type of squash with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper before cooking. Then, go bold with more flavorful spices and herbs or let the natural flavors of the squash shine through.
In the Oven
You can roast squash whole, but slicing them first, into chunks or slices, allows more flavor to form on the cut surfaces when the sugars in the squash caramelize in a hot oven. Roast a whole or a half squash in a medium, 350-degree Fahrenheit oven until you can pierce it easily with a sharp knife – a whole winter squash, such as acorn or butternut, takes up to an hour to become tender, while a summer squash, such as zucchini or crookneck, takes as little as 15 minutes.
Either type of squash cooks more quickly diced or sliced, and baked in a 400 F oven for 10 to 15 minutes for summer squash and 20 to 30 minutes for winter squash. Roast squash works well as a side dish or as part of a room-temperature, roasted vegetable salad. Summer squash doesn't need peeling or skinning, but even though roasting softens the skin of a winter squash enough to be edible, most people like winter squash peeled.
In a Skillet
In a well-oiled skillet, slices or pieces of summer squash cook in 3 to 4 minutes per side and winter squash 5 to 10 minutes per side. Leave the pieces plain, dredge them in flour for a light crust or bread them by dipping them first in a beaten egg, then in breadcrumbs. Grated summer squash cooks in only 2 to 3 minutes in a pan with a few teaspoons of oil.
For unbreaded squash, add dried herbs, such as oregano, thyme or rosemary, after tossing them with oil. Or, save the seasonings for after cooking and sprinkle on fresh, chopped herbs; parsley and chives pair well with either variety of squash and the flavor of basil is a good match with summer squash.
On the Grill
Both types of squash take the same time to cook on the grill as they do sauteed in a skillet. Cut the squash into strips or slices to place directly on the grill, or cut them into chunks for skewers. Either squash takes well to bold spices, such as a jerk seasoning, citrus-flavored marinade, curry marinade or barbecue sauce. Sprinkle on fresh chopped cilantro to finish.
In the Microwave
Microwave cooking works well when you're in a hurry because summer squash takes only 2 to 3 minutes, and winter squash 6 or 7 minutes, when the vegetables are cut into 1-inch chunks. Sprinkle the squash with a little water, cover them loosely and cook them on high heat. You'll know they're done when you can pierce them easily with a sharp knife. Stir in a teaspoon of butter, salt, pepper, fresh chopped parsley and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
You need to pierce whole squash in a few places with a knife before cooking. According to Marian Morash, author of The Victory Garden Cookbook, a 1-pound summer squash cooks in 4 to 6 minutes on high and a whole winter squash, such as a 3 1/2-pound spaghetti squash, cooks in 15 minutes.
Steamed in a Pot
Using a steamer basket placed inside a pot, with a few inches of water underneath, large chunks of winter squash cook in about 15 to 20 minutes. You can mash these as you would potatoes, or serve them whole with butter and a sprinkle of smoked paprika or cinnamon for a side dish to serve with chicken. Large chunks of summer squash steam in 5 to 10 minutes; season them with fresh herbs, salt and pepper.