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Squash, Anyone?

September 10, 1997|FAYE LEVY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Levy is the author of "30 Low-Fat Vegetarian Meals in 30 Minutes" (Warner Books, 1997)

With its bright yellow skin and graceful, curved neck, crookneck squash is beautiful on the plant and on your plate. Its sunny hue seems to intensify during cooking and adds lively color to a meal as an accompaniment or in a salad or vegetable stew. Round slices of steamed squash encircling a green salad or a chopped tomato-cucumber salad makes an appealing appetizer.

All summer squashes are great for dieters. Their high water content makes them very low in calories, so you can eat as much as you like; 3/4 cup sliced raw yellow crookneck squash has only 19 calories. The high proportion of water means the vegetable is not dense in nutrients, but it does contain folate, vitamin C, magnesium, fiber and, in the skin, some beta carotene.

Although large crookneck squash tastes fine, it's best to choose small ones that have a sweeter flavor and finer texture. If you grow your own, you can pick them when they are less than 4 inches long, but they're also good when they are 6 to 8 inches long. They keep for up to five days, unwashed, in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

A boon to the busy cook, crookneck squashes need almost no preparation: Just rinse them, scrub their skin if necessary and cut them if you want. When the squash is small, I leave it whole. With medium ones, I leave the neck whole and slice or dice the rest. The necks of larger squashes make pretty slices that have scalloped edges because of the squashes' slightly bumpy skin.

Crookneck squash cooks very quickly, whether steamed, boiled, grilled, sauteed or simmered in vegetable or chicken soup. Like zucchini, yellow squash is wonderful stewed in tomato sauce, on its own, with mushrooms or combined with eggplant, onions, peppers, garlic and herbs as ratatouille. When I'm in the mood for a delicate sweet and sour dish, I cook yellow squash in tomato sauce with raisins and lemon juice. I also find crookneck squash delicious with assertive spices like curry, cumin and hot pepper.

If you want to highlight the subtle taste of crookneck squash, prepare it in a gently seasoned dish like this Hungarian-style recipe, in which the squash cooks with sauteed onions, fresh dill and paprika.

You can turn this Hungarian squash dish into a very simple curried vegetable stew by substituting curry powder for the paprika, adding a can of drained garbanzo beans and finishing the dish with cilantro. Served over couscous or brown rice, either version makes a tasty and very easy vegetarian entree.

CROOKNECK SQUASH WITH DILL AND PAPRIKA

Use half yellow squash and half zucchini to make a pretty yellow and green dish.

6 crookneck squashes (about 1 1/2 pounds)

1 tablespoon oil

1 onion, chopped

1 1/4 teaspoons sweet paprika

Dash hot paprika or cayenne pepper

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 to 4 tablespoons vegetable broth or water

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon chopped parsley, optional

Cut off thin neck of each squash. Quarter rest of squash lengthwise and cut each quarter into 2 pieces.

Heat oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute until golden, about 3 minutes. Add squash necks and pieces, sweet paprika, hot paprika and salt and pepper to taste and saute 1 minute, stirring to coat.

Add 2 tablespoons broth to pan. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Check and add additional 1 or 2 tablespoons broth during cooking if needed. Add dill and parsley and toss. Taste and adjust seasonings.

4 servings. Each serving:

70 calories; 78 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 1.04 grams fiber.

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