Friday, August 21, 2009

Summer Squash Casserole

I spy something that begins with the letter M. That’s right. More zucchini. Last year our CSA had relatively few zucchini to offer due to a shortage of pollinating bugs, especially bees. Well, they must have done something right this year, because the zucchini are back with a vengeance.

Oh, but it’s not just zucchini. There are other summer squash varieties as well. We have little yellow patty-pan squash that are just so cute, I wish they had cheeks to pinch. And there are the pretty yellow crooked-neck squash. Both of these perform similarly to zucchini in dishes (if not in the garden), and I tend to use them interchangeably. The patty-pans are a little more firm and their skin is less delicate than the zucchini or yellow squash, but if you shred them as I did in this summer squash casserole, those differences don’t seem to matter.

This casserole is a bit decadent, what with the heavy cream and the buttery breadcrumb topping. It reminds me of the fabulous yellow squash casserole my sister in-law makes. That one is further gilded with a topping of Cheez-It crackers. (She gave me the recipe once, but I promptly lost it. My apron is not the only think in my life that’s a bit messy.)

I use the shredding blade on my food processor to grate the squash, but you could use a box grater if that’s more readily available (and you’re made of stronger, more patient stuff than I am). I also used the food processor to make the breadcrumbs for the topping, although I used the regular processing blade for that. I recommend making your own breadcrumbs out of extra bread that you may have that is past its prime. Most breads will do, if they aren’t too sweet or have too many chunky bits mixed in. I often end up using leftover homemade whole wheat sandwich bread, but when I made this squash casserole, I used some store-bought white bread that had over-stayed its welcome. (Does this stuff never go bad?)

As long as the bread isn’t too fresh, it can simply be torn or cut into coarse pieces (I don’t bother to remove the crust) and ground up in the food processor. You can pick and pull apart really dry bread with your fingers or a knife if you don’t have a food processor. (I found this to be easy to do while talking on the phone.) I freeze what I don’t use right away in a zip-top freezer bag.

I used basil in this dish because I happen to have a lot of it in my porch garden right now. Other herbs, such as mint, parsley, chives, sage, and thyme would be good as well. I could also see other vegetables making a fine contribution, such as shredded carrot or fresh sweet corn…and maybe some Cheez-Its on top.

Summer Squash Casserole with Basil and Onion

1 pound summer squash (zucchini, yellow crooked-neck, patty pan, or a mixture)
½ of a medium yellow onion
1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
½ cup chopped fresh basil
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cloves minced garlic
¾ cup heavy cream
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons butter

1. Grate the squash and onion using the shredding blade of a food processor or by hand with a box grater (largest holes).

2. Toss the grated squash and onion with the salt in a colander. Allow to stand and drain in the sink for 30 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Spin the squash mixture dry in a salad spinner, or lay it out on a clean towel and pat dry.

4. In a large bowl, mix the drained squash mixture with the basil, Parmesan and garlic. Grease a 2 quart casserole dish and pour the squash mixture in. Pour the heavy cream evenly over the squash mixture.

5. Melt the butter and toss the breadcrumbs with the melted butter until completely moistened. Spread the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the squash mixture.

6. Bake at 400F for 25-30 minutes or until the topping is well browned and the cream has been absorbed.

Makes 4 main dish servings, 6-8 side dish servings.

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