Summer squash reaches its peak in the air fryer

Deeply caramelized air-fried summer squash is topped with crunchy bread crumbs brightened with lemon zest and chives.
Deeply caramelized and flavorful air-fried summer squash is topped with crunchy bread crumbs brightened with lemon zest and chives.
(Ben Mims / Los Angeles Times)

A few years ago, I wrote a cookbook on air frying. I vowed from the beginning to only develop recipes that benefited from being cooked in a special gadget by at least one of two metrics: The food is cooked dramatically faster than traditional methods — good for time-crunched cooks, or anyone who doesn’t want their oven on for hours in the middle of summer — or it drastically improves the quality or texture of the dish over other methods such as oven-roasting or actual deep-frying.

I was surprised to learn that all vegetables score high on both scales. In the air fryer, they cook faster and the high, dry heat circulating around them gets them golden brown to a degree that I’ve never achieved in a conventional oven alone.

I found squishy, spongy and sometimes slimy vegetables including eggplant, okra and, particularly, summer squash and zucchini are transformed completely in the air fryer, a vast improvement over their oven-roasted counterparts.


Sweet, tender summer squash makes an ideal star in creamy chowder-style soup.

Aug. 24, 2019

In an air fryer, they get blistered and caramelized and partially dehydrate — an effect of the fan in air fryers that blasts heat around them like a jet turbine. In the air fryer, more water inside the vegetables is removed, concentrating their flavor. Ever since, I have been air frying summer squash because its oft-maligned wateriness and lack of flavor is no longer an issue — and it takes half the time to cook.

This recipe can be made both in the oven and in the air fryer, but know that the oven method will take twice as long to cook the squash, and it will heat up your kitchen, unlike the air fryer. Either way, salt the chopped squash first to help draw out some of its moisture and season it to the core, ensuring it has maximum flavor. After squeezing and drying it, toss it with a little oil and roast or air-fry it until it’s golden brown and caramelized outside and creamy inside.

Growing up in the South, I ate more cream-soaked squash casseroles than I care to remember (Why soak something already so watery with more liquid?) so instead, I opt to balance the squash’s milky richness with a showering of extra-crunchy toasted breadcrumbs brightened with lemon zest and lots of fresh chives. It’s a treatment that — like air frying — improves the squishy lot in life that summer squash is given.