The picture below shows a selection of vegetables which are collectively known as summer squash. One of these will be very familiar; the courgette or zucchino has been a widely used summer and autumn vegetable in this country for many years.
The marrow, which has a still longer heritage of use in Britain, is really the same species as the courgette, but is stripey with a more rotund form, and is traditionally allowed to grow to a large size with a harder skin. The others, however, seem to lead to a little confusion and provoke extraordinary cries of “weird!”, or “hippy food!”. At the bottom of the picture are a few types of “patty pan” or scallop squash.
These are really variants of the same plant as the courgette and marrow and differ only in their shapes and colours. Another kind is the crookneck which, as the name suggests, has a curved “crook” at the point where the fruit attaches to the plant. They can all be used in the same way as courgettes, but the different shapes and colours can provide more variety and interest. Summer squashes are all harvested when young, small and tender, before the rind has hardened. This distinguishes them from the winter squashes, which are allowed to fully develop and ripen before harvest.
This year we have grown three types of courgette to offer more variety of colour and pattern. We have a pale skinned “Genovese” type, the dark green “Nero di Milano”, “Goldrush”, a gorgeous yellow skinned variety, and lastly “Tiger Cross”, with its distinctive light and dark longitudinal stripes. This is usually grown as a marrow but can be picked young as a courgette, when I think it’s much nicer to eat anyway. Of course, some of the Tiger Cross will be allowed to mature into marrows. Try the small patty pans steamed or roasted whole, sliced in a lasagne, or stuffed and baked with a filling of your choice. Just a funny shaped courgette, they’re not so weird after all.