Winter squash gets all the love. So much so that by the time summer squash starts ripening, no one’s enthused. Ever been handed a bulging plastic grocery bag stuffed with the overflowing bounty of a friend’s garden? It was probably full of squash and zucchini. There’s no denying that squash and zucchini are a plentiful crop, especially in the warm South. Still, why do we turn up our noses at this abundance?

The problem is not the generous presence of squash in our summer lives, but the absence of the know-how to cook it. The same criticisms people make of the vegetable—watery, bland—are the properties that make zucchini and squash excellent vehicles for flavor, if you know how to treat them. No more half-hearted sautés or church potluck-style stewing that leaves the squash mushy and meh. Start with varying your technique: try a slow roast, hard sear, or long braise until silky and meltingly tender. Or, you can think of your zucchini like a sponge and anoint the vegetable with oils to give it body, spices or herbs to bring flavor, and various acids to make it sing. 

This savory shrimp and squash sheet pan dinner was born from the second approach: douse the squash with flavor, pop into a hot oven for a while, and see what emerges. Cumin and harissa take the starring roles here, bringing earthy heat to staple summer ingredients. A generous squeeze of lemon and a hefty handful of mint round out the mix with brightness and freshness. The prep is low-key, as summer meals should be, with most of the cooking time clocking in while the veggies are roasting in the oven—the ideal meal to crack open a beer and a book while you wait. Scoop the finished, flavorful shrimp and veggies into bowls of warm Israeli couscous and prepare to see summer squash with brand new eyes. 

Sheet Pan Summer Squash & Shrimp

Serves 4

Ingredients:

⅔ cup plus 4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided

  • 4 Tbsp. harissa
  • 3 tsp. ground cumin
  • 4 tsp. kosher salt, divided
  • 8 small squash and zucchini (about 3½ lbs.), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1½ lbs. extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
  • Zest from 1 lemon (reserve lemon for squeezing juice)
  • ½ tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
  • Generous handful of fresh mint leaves, for garnish
  • 2 cups dry Israeli (pearl) couscous
  • 2½ cups water

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk together ⅔ cup of olive oil with the harissa, ground cumin, and 2 tsp. of salt. Divide the zucchini and squash chunks between two large rimmed sheet pans to ensure room for even roasting and then pour the harissa mixture over the vegetables, dividing between the two pans and tossing to coat evenly. Roast, tossing occasionally, until the squash is lightly browned and tender, about 25 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, pat the shrimp dry with paper towels. In a large bowl, whisk together 3 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. cumin seeds, zest from 1 lemon, ½ tsp. pepper, and 1 tsp. salt. Add the shrimp and toss to coat.
  4. Push the squash toward the edges of the pans, making room in the middle to divide the shrimp between the sheet pans. Arrange in a single layer and roast altogether until the shrimp are just opaque and the veggies are golden and tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. If your squash needs more cooking time, be sure to remove the shrimp before finishing the squash. 
  5. In a medium saucepan, heat the last 1 Tbsp. of olive oil over medium heat. Add the 2 cups of dry couscous and stir, toasting it for about 2 minutes. Pour in 2½ cups of water, add 1 tsp. salt, and bring to a strong simmer. Lower the heat to medium-low and put the lid on, stirring occasionally, while the couscous continues to cook, about 10 to 12 minutes more. The couscous is ready when the water is absorbed and the couscous is tender, but al dente. Leave the lid on until ready to serve, then fluff couscous with a fork.
  6. To serve, combine the shrimp and squash on a serving platter, tasting the vegetables first to see if they need any more salt. Finish with generous squeezes of lemon juice and a scattering of fresh mint. Spoon over individual bowls or plates with warm couscous. 

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