You might have passed them in the supermarket or at the farmer's stand and thought, "What are those little things?" They're green or creamy yellow, round and a bit flattened, about 5 to 7 cm (2 or 3 inches) in diameter, with a scalloped edge. They're called patty pan squash, and don't be put off by their unique looks: they're easy to cook, versatile, mild and delicious.
When selecting patty pan squash at the market, look for squash that are regularly shaped, without bruises or nicks. Steer clear of any with discoloured areas or mouldy spots. If you'd like to steam or roast the patty pans whole, choose smaller squash, as they'll cook more quickly and thoroughly. However you decide to prepare them, a pound of squash should serve nicely as a side dish for two or three people.
Wash and dry the squashes. Trim away any blemishes and any woody areas at the stem end. If you're cooking your squash whole, that's all the prep you need. Otherwise, slice the squashes through the diameter into rounds, roughly half a cm (1/4-inch) thick. (Slicing them through the diameter instead of pole-to-pole preserves the scalloped edges.)
If you're baking your squash whole, poke holes in each one with a fork or knife. Place them in the bottom of a small casserole dish, and dot the tops with butter. Salt and pepper the squash. (You can also sprinkle other spices, such as paprika or onion salt, onto the squash.) Bake the squash in a 175 ºC (350F) oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until you can pierce them easily with a fork.
If you'd rather steam the patty pans, it's even easier. Pierce the squash with a fork, and then place them in a covered steamer basket. Suspend the basket over a pot of boiling water. Steam the patty pans for four to five minutes, or until tender.
Sliced patty pans can be baked with Parmesan to make a casserole. Lightly grease a small casserole dish with unsalted butter, then layer the sliced patty pans in the bottom of the casserole so that the rounds overlap slightly. Dot the slices with a bit of butter. Sprinkle a half-cup of freshly grated Parmesan over the slices. (It's tempting to add more, but you'll want to avoid smothering the mild flavour of the squash.) Add salt and pepper to taste, and then place the casserole in a 175ºC (350F) oven for 15 minutes, or until the Parmesan is melted and slightly browned.
Patty pan squash can also be grilled on a barbecue, either in a vegetable basket or, if they are large enough so that they do not fall through, directly on the grill. You can also quarter patty pans, toss them with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and crushed garlic, and roast them on a baking tray at 220ºC (425F) for 15 to 20 minutes. Since patty pans are small and round, it can be difficult to slice them. To stabilise the squash, slice a coin-sized round off one edge, and then place the squash cut-side down on the cutting board.