Star Ingredient of the Season: Summer Squash
Though it's definitely not breaking news that summer squash is in season—the word "summer" is right there in the name—the breakdown of assorted squash, zucchini and pumpkin in the Cucurbita pepo family can get pretty confusing. The term "summer squash" actually comes from the short storage life of the vegetable as compared to "winter squash," which can be stored for months at a time in a cool space.
Picked while still immature, the rind of the summer squash and zucchini is soft and thin, making it completely edible. Summer squash are bright in color, in shades of green and yellow, and make a colorful addition to casseroles, pastas and fritatas. Very mild in flavor, the vegetable also makes a hearty addition to any dish when cut in large slices, chunky pieces or even julienned. Aside from the varieties of spaghetti squash I have seen on Houston restaurant menus, I often see the summer squash as a supplemental ingredient to many dishes. Recently, however, I discovered a phenomenal dish featuring this star ingredient in a hip Midtown restaurant.
In Its Starring Role At
Sparrow Bar + Cookshop is a farm-to-table delight in a cozy, modern setting, the cornerpiece of the Mid-Main Island between Travis St. and Main St. in Midtown. Greeting diners at the front entrance is the restaurant's fresh garden complete with large peach trees. A fresh and organic backdrop to the restaurant's covered patio, the garden acts as a reminder that the focus at Sparrow is on offering only the best in local and regional ingredients. The combination of enthusiasm and a creative vision by chief operating officer Marc Borel and chef Monica Pope—she of Top Chef Masters—Sparrow has been offering Houstonians a menu of fresh selections and mouthwatering dishes since long before it was the cool thing to do. With a menu that changes daily for lunch and dinner, you can rest assured that the food on your plate is at the peak of its season.
Sparrow Bar + Cookshop
3701 Travis St.
One of the reasons Sparrow has always stood out to me is that it provides excellent options for those who prefer a vegetarian meal. The menu includes a variety of appetizers, small plates and sides that are perfect to share and are vegetable heavy. On my visit, I was intrigued by something called the Zephyr Squah (zephyr is a straightneck summer squash) which was a simple dish featuring squash tossed together with smoked peaches, carmelized onions, toasted almonds and honey. Intrigued by the fresh peaches growing on site at the restaurant, I thought this was definitely the way to go. I will give praise to the smoked peaches, no doubt, but the true star of this dish was the chunky pieces of summer squash. They provided a hearty base for the rest of the ingredients and offer diners a dish which is more than a salad and lighter than a main course. Paired beautifully with a fresh peach cocktail from the bar, I was in farm-to-table heaven indeed. Other stellar choices from the menu on my visit included the vegetable dal (also made with squash) and the stacked peach cobbler, offered now while peaches are in season.
Not only known for its celebrity chef and fresh dishes, Sparrow also offers cooking classes where interested foodies can come in to the restaurant and learn to cook from Pope herself. Guests are invited to stay and enjoy their freshly prepared meals in The Cookshop, located on the second floor of the trendy space. Tickets for the Father's Day cooking class are on sale now on sparrowhouston.com for $65. The two-hour hands-on session will include Dad learning three different recipes which the family can help out with and eat afterward. This may be different than the Father's Day plans you're used to, but it's a great way to get Dad in the kitchen and get the whole family excited about eating fresh.