Eat Shoots and Leaves

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I recently learned that there is more to squash than just the squash; the young shoots are not only edible, but a delicious green!

Squash shoot aglio e olio

Squash shoot aglio e olio

 

Fellow cucurbitacean Amy Goldman introduced me to them in her book, “The Compleat Squash.” I had heard of eating pea shoots before… but squash?! I had to find out if these are worth the effort.

They are.

In my growing zone (6b), it’s been a little early to sow squash seeds yet. And with my limited growing space, I’d be reluctant to start snipping my prized plants for an experimental side dish, anyway.

Then, in early March, inspiration struck from the inside of a Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato winter squash: I found little sprouts inside the squash’s seed cavity. This phenomenon, called vivipary, is frequently caused by declining levels of abscicic acid (ABA) in plant seeds, a plant hormone that prevents germination. I had harvested the squash in September, so it was no big surprise that ABA levels would be low enough to cause seed germination (storage at cold temperatures, like your refrigerator, accelerate ABA loss, by the way… another reason to store squash in cool, not cold, temperatures).

Word of the day: vivipary.

Word of the day: vivipary.

 

But honestly, until I saw these little seedlings in my squash, I hadn’t considered using the seeds for anything other than roasting. After all, I’ve never taken the necessary steps to prevent cross-pollination between the many squash varieties I grow each year, so I never use them for seed-saving (as they wouldn’t be true to type). Now I’ve found a fabulous new use for them, and a great way to grow greens indoors in winter.

I took the remaining seeds from the squash cavity, placed them in the refrigerator for 2 weeks (just to accelerate additional loss of ABA from the seeds and insure germination), and planted them in a flat filled with organic potting soil. I was already starting tomato, eggplant, and pepper seeds under lights anyway, so here was the perfect opportunity to try squash shoots, at no cost to my seed inventory or future squash yields.

IMG_1398

 

About one month later, I harvested the young shoots, which had grown great in the flat despite crowded spacing and a shallow planting depth (I was growing them just for shoots, after all… don’t try this with plants you’d like to set in the garden).

Mmmm... squash shoots.

Mmmm… squash shoots.

 

I prepared the shoots as I do broccoli raab or swiss chard; braising first in a small amount of water, then sautéing in olive oil with fresh garlic, black pepper, and sea salt.

The only downside to squash shoots? An entire flat of shoots, which when harvested was enough to fill a 1 gallon bag, made enough for a side dish for one family dinner (with guest). Like kale, a lot of greens goes a little way when cooked.

All the same, I will be making this dish again. My daughters enjoyed planting the seeds and watching them grow (which if you’ve grown squash, you know happens FAST), and it is a beautiful and novel side dish to boot.

Squash Shoot Aglio e Olio
 
Author:

Ingredients
  • Young, fresh squash shoots (any variety of summer or winter squash)
  • Water
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Black peppercorns
  • Sea Salt

Instructions
  1. In a large skillet on medium-high heat, add squash shoots and water to just cover the bottom of the pan. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook shoots for 1-2 minutes.
  2. Remove lid. Allow any remaining water to evaporate from skillet. Add olive oil to preference (I add about 1-2 Tbsp olive oil/gallon bag of greens) and sauté greens with freshly-ground black pepper and sea salt.
  3. Serve warm.

 

 

11 Comments

  1. littlemountainhaven

    April 25, 2013 at 10:18 am

    what a lovely informative post! I’ve eaten sunflower and pea shoots but never squash.

    I saved some seeds from a rouge vif d’etamp pumpkin, I know they won’t grow to be the same but I’m curious to know what they crossed with so I’m growing them outside of the garden as an experiment 🙂

    I’ve started our squash even though they usually shouldnt be in the ground till June. We’ve had this strange thing the the past couple of years where May is super hot and 30C whereas June is cold and rainy. Sooo I rather than a fail in June I am taking a chance in May and will have to cover them…it;s all a guessing game!

    I’m so excited to see your squash and garden this year!!

  2. betty ballard

    December 14, 2013 at 8:12 am

    I do not understand your information. I just cut open a pumpkin and found a lot of sprouts. I don’t have facilities for growing shoots, so I cleaned all the pumpkin off and I plan to put the spouts in salads; also, I put some seeds in a sprouting jar to sprout for future salads. I put some seeds to dry for planting in spring. Are you saying the seeds need to go in the refrigerator and kept cool for re-planting and for sprouting for salads? Can they be frozen and saved for planting in the spring. I often dry seeds and then, freeze until I need to plant them. Will all this not work?

    • Ma Hubbard

      December 14, 2013 at 8:38 am

      Thank you for your question, Betty. I don’t eat pumpkin sprouts, just the shoots. If you are saving the seeds for planting in the spring, you should dry them (and yes, freezing will lengthen their viability in storage) — it sounds like you are doing that anyway, like you should. If you are using fresh seeds from a squash for growing shoots (or sprouts), then you’ll simply get better germination if you refrigerate the seeds first to decrease the levels of ABA that inhibit germination while the seeds are in the squash cavity.

  3. betty ballard

    December 17, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Thank you for clearing up my confusion

  4. Cary Bradley

    February 25, 2014 at 6:38 am

    Brilliant idea! Thanks for sharing that the shoots are edible and delicious! Great to know!

    • Ma Hubbard

      February 25, 2014 at 10:10 am

      You’re most welcome, Cary!

  5. solly

    July 24, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Do you know if they’re edible raw or must they be cooked? Nice post!

    • Ma Hubbard

      July 24, 2014 at 4:57 pm

      Thanks, Solly! They’re edible raw as far as I know (I tried them out of curiosity), but the texture isn’t vey desirable due to the stiff hairs in the leaves (which isn’t noticeable after cooking). If you’ve ever picked zucchini in a short-sleeved shirt, you can imagine what it feels like to your tongue. 😉

  6. Kathy

    May 3, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    The name of the recipe and the photo seem to indicate garlic as an ingredient, but you have not included it in your recipe. Am I missing something?

    • Cathy

      May 9, 2015 at 1:36 pm

      I’m laughing looking back at this post. Why, yes… of course there is garlic as an ingredient, but I somehow glossed right over it. I slice a couple of cloves very thinly and toss with the oil just prior to adding the squash shoots. I’ll fix this very soon… thank you for catching the omission! 🙂

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