Summer squash is hard. First, it is prolific, so we get a lot in out CSA shares. Second, it’s not that flavorful, so it’s not as if you can make a main dish of just squash. Third, the season for squash is long, meaning we’ll get it week after week. So, what do we do? Well, to be honest, we try to squeeze it into dishes somewhat higgledy-piggledy, a small squash in this, a small squash in that, and, generally, within a week or so, they’re all gone, just in time for another batch from the farm. Not the best way of eating the squash, but it works. Of course, we look around from time to time to see if we can find other dishes, but often they require produce that isn’t in season, or, if it is in season, we didn’t get it in our shares that week.
This week, on our search for recipes to squashify our lives, we looked at one of our favorite cookbooks: Home Cooking, Recipes from Four Generations of Cooks. You can’t buy it, so don’t even bother looking for it. One Christmas, a family member requested favorite recipes from everyone in the family, and she compiled a fairly hefty tome full of the best of the best. It really is the gift that has kept on giving. Thanks, MAP!
Looking through it, we decided that we’d try Belle’s Squash Casserole. We don’t know who Belle is, but we do know from the credits, that this recipe was published in Helen Exum’s Chattanooga Cook Book, in 1970. Now, we really took some liberties with this recipe, adding mushrooms, using breadcrumbs instead of crackers, skipping the butter and the small amount of sugar altogether, but, if you’re interested, it’s possible to find the real-deal on the internet. Or, you can take some liberties with the recipe we provide, and have a custom-scratched casserole of your own.
Serves 4 as a side.
While the original recipe called for yellow squash, we think you can use any thin-skinned summer squash. If the skin seems thick and tough, peel the squash before cooking. For the cheese, use one you like. You can go with the standard Cheddar, or, if you’d like something with a bit more in the flavor department, perhaps a Gruyère, or even a bit of blue cheese; we happened to use Colby-Jack. Since squash is pretty bland, the choice of cheese will drive the overall flavor of the casserole. And, as always, eggs from happy hens. Don’t even think about getting us started on why you should avoid the green cylinder of “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese.”
Procedure in detail:
Preheat oven to 300°F. Butter an 8×8-inch baking dish.
Boil squash. Well, don’t boil them really; more like simmer. Trim off the stems, the little place where the flower attaches, plop them into a saucepan, and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.
Prepare onions. While the squash is cooking, in a small skillet over medium-low heat, melt butter and cook onions, peppers, and mushrooms until everything is tender. Remove from heat.
Drain and mash. Drain the squash well and hit them up with a potato masher. With the first mash or two, you might get a bunch of water squeezed out of the squash; drain that, too. Then give the squash some serious mashing.
Add crumbs. Toss in about 1/2 of the bread crumbs, and stir to combine.
Add egg and milk. In a small bowl, or even a measuring cup, whisk together the egg and milk, then pour it into the squash and give it a couple of good stirs to combine.
Add cheese and vegetables. Add the cooked onions, peppers, and mushrooms, along with whatever grated cheese you’re using, to the squash mixture, and stir it in. If you are adding fresh herbs, toss those in now, too.
Taste and adjust. Give the casserole mixture a quick taste, and add salt and freshly ground pepper as needed.
Place in pan. Scrape the casserole filling into the prepared pan, top with Parmesan cheese and the remaining bread crumbs.
Bake. Slide into the hot oven and bake, uncovered, for about an hour, or until the casserole is bubbly and the top has browned.
Serve. While the casserole does hold together a bit, it’s probably easiest to serve this up with a large spoon.
This is a pretty good way to use up squash. The casserole is tasty, but somewhat bland — the nature of squash — so we’re glad we added mushrooms, especially the porcinis, since they add a lot of flavor. We happened to use fresh thyme and some chives as our herbs, which also helped, but, while good, the casserole could have used more oomph. Next time we’ll probably use a stronger-flavored cheese, possibly Gorgonzola, in an effort to move this dish from a standard side to more of a shining star. And speaking of stars, we’ll say four.